Franklin mayor says he will veto any attempt to raise tax cap for school funding

  • Franklin mayor-elect Tony Giunta talks about his education plans from his home in Franklin on Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

  • Franklin mayor-elect Tony Giunta talks about the future of Franklin from his home in Franklin on Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

Monitor staff
Published: 6/19/2018 10:14:09 PM

A week after Franklin parents, educators and students led a march protesting the school budget shortfall, mayor Tony Giunta says he will veto any motion by the city council to override the tax cap and get more money to the district.

“One of the biggest selling points to invite businesses to come here is that the city of Franklin has a stable tax rate, something that we can depend on,” Giunta said at a city council meeting Monday night. “Once we break our tax cap, all bets are off.”

Community members rallied before the city council meeting on June 11 in reaction to this year’s $813,832 school budget shortfall, which resulted in the termination of 14 positions throughout the Franklin School District.

Teacher cuts have become a regular occurrence in Franklin, one of New Hampshire’s most property-poor cities. For the past two years, the shortfall has been close to $1 million and has resulted in layoffs.

Protesters last week, about 200 of whom marched from the high school to city hall, did not all agree on how they would like to see the system changed; some wanted to see the tax cap lifted, others hoped to see a reallocation of revenue within the city, and others thought the state should contribute more to funding education.

School Board Chair Tim Dow proposed that the city vote to increase the tax revenue allocated to the schools over the next five years by 12 percent. This would result in 46 percent of the city’s revenue being put toward schools, and 54 percent going to city operations. The funding is currently at a 66 percent/34 percent split.

But at the meeting Monday night, the mayor aimed to put one of those options to rest, even as councilors struggled to find money through cuts to the existing municipal budget in areas such as police and fire, the public library, and trash pickup.

“There’s no low-hanging fruit for me to grab,” City Manager Judie Milner said.

Cutting the police and fire budget would only result in more crime and less emergency services, Milner said. And cuts to the library would impact a safe place for kids to spend time after school and a resource for residents who can’t afford their own computers, she argued.

Milner also raised concerns about eliminating trash pickup, especially in Franklin, where many landlords do not live in the area to enforce trash disposal policies.

Councilor Robert Desrochers echoed Milner’s concerns.

“Who is going to come here if we have no trash pickup, no ambulances, no (school resource officer), no police cruisers on the road, no library?” Desrochers asked. “Or better yet, who’s going to stay here?”

But Desrochers put the burden on the schools to help solve the problem.

“The school board comes here year after year and says, ‘We’re $1 million short,’ ” he said. “They need to do more than come in and say, ‘We need $1 million.’ They need to have answers.”

Councilor Scott Clarenbach said the city council should see itself as equally responsible for the city and school budgets.

“We are responsible for the municipal side of the government, and the school budget number. What’s happened, unfortunately, is that we’ve allowed the schools to continue to slip,” Clarenbach said. “We are responsible to educate our children to the best of our ability. I personally don’t think we’re doing that right now.”

The council agreed to add around $160,000 to the school budget from one-time revenue from an expiring bond – $54,000 – and $102,000 in estimated taxes from new property installed by Eversource.

Monday night’s allocations knock about 20 percent off the $813,832 school budget shortfall. According to the city manager’s calculations, to add $600,000 for the Franklin schools through tax revenue, that would mean an increase to the tax rate of $1.08 per $1,000 of assessed property value – an additional $216 on a $200,000 home.

Councilor Jo Brown agreed to meet with Franklin Superintendent Daniel LeGallo to go through the school board’s bud get again before the next city council meeting at the end of the month.

“For the benefit of the city and for the benefit of the schools, we need to figure out what our true priority is, but we need to do it without ruining the city we’ve worked so hard to build,” Brown said.

To override a Giunta veto on t he tax cap, the council would need a two-thirds majority – six of nine councilors – to vote in favor of lifting the cap

(Leah Willingham can be reached at 369-3322, or on Twitter @LeahMWillingham.)

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