Prembroke residents discuss taxes and new spending at budget meeting

By EILEEN O’GRADY

Monitor staff

Published: 02-03-2023 3:06 PM

Passing a town operating budget of $10.6 million, purchasing town vehicles and adopting a new community power plan will be the focal points for Pembroke voters at town meeting in March.

The proposed town budget is a 6.7% increase over the current operating budget of $10 million. The estimated tax impact of the municipal budget alone is $6.75 per $1,000 of property value, or about $2,000 a year for a home valued at $300,000.

The proposed school operating budget for 2023-2024 is $29.7 million, a 3.4% increase over the current budget of $28.7 million. The estimated local school tax rate is $18.28 per $1,000 of property value, or about $5,500 for a $300,000 home.

About 30 residents gathered in the Pembroke Academy auditorium Thursday night for a public hearing on the proposed town and school budgets.

Several expressed dissatisfaction with high tax rates and increased spending.

“Tell me, what’s the plan in place to keep our taxes from doubling in the next three years?” said Pembroke resident Peter Mehegan. “Pembroke, Allenstown, none of us can see our taxes doubled. You know and I know neighbors that have left because they can’t.”

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The largest costs contributing to the town budget’s $668,731 increase include $240,600 more for debt service, $135,000 for solid waste due to a new contract and $73,309 in public works due to salt, sand and fuel costs, according to Town Administrator David Jodoin.

“We have a new contract with solid waste. The last contract we had was a sweet deal we had for 10 years,” Jodoin explained. “We’re not getting those favorable fees anymore.”

There’s also a $70,446 increase in police department category due to the addition of an officer which was approved last year, and $61,000 in the town clerk category due to the addition of a full-time position.

On the warrant, Pembroke residents will vote on whether to adopt the Pembroke Community Power Plan, which was finalized last month by the Pembroke Energy Committee. The town says the new plan has a more flexible electricity procurement mechanism that is expected to provide lower electricity rates. Residential electricity customers would be automatically enrolled unless they choose to opt-out.

Residents will also be asked to approve $250,000 for a new six-wheel dump and plow truck, $55,420 for a new police cruiser, $65,000 for a new wood chipper.

“If anybody’s down at public works take a look at this, it’s just a scary thing to see,” Jodoin said, about the current wood chipper. “It really needs to be replaced for safety reasons.”

There will also be warrant articles seeking to give property tax exemptions to low-income disabled residents and older adults, and adopt a tax credit for veterans and their spouses.

Passing an operating budget, increasing wages for teachers and making school building repairs will be the focal points of the Pembroke School District’s annual meeting this year.

The biggest costs contributing to the proposed school budget’s $478,538 increase are special education costs, technical education costs and health and dental insurance.

Special education is seeing a $319,313 increase, which School Board Chair Andy Camidge said can’t be altered much due to legal requirements to provide those services. He said transportation costs to bus students out of district to receive special education services is contributing to much of the increase.

“Special education costs have been on the rise every year, school districts are required to provide these services so that’s kind of one of those lines we don’t have a whole lot of say over,” Camidge said. 

Technical education programs, which include tuition and transportation for Pembroke students at the Concord Regional Technical Center, increasing by $109,758. Benefits increasing by $336,192.

The four-year teacher contract, which will be a separate item on the school warrant article, includes an estimated increase of $430,369 to fund teacher salaries for the 2023-2024 school year, an additional increase of $445,528 on top of that for 2024-2025, an additional increase of $495,010 for 2025-2026 and an additional increase of $447,897 for 2026-2027. Pembroke teacher salaries range from $40,017 per year to $71,476 based on education level and longevity, according to their current collective bargaining agreement.

Voters will also be asked to approve $110,000 for replacing the roof at Pembroke Academy and upgrading floors in all Pembroke schools. The money would be drawn from the school building capital reserve fund, which was established for that purpose. Another warrant article seeks to add $205,000 into the reserve for future projects.

Also on the warrant, voters will be asked to add $250,000 to a site improvement trust fund for repairing the Pembroke Academy track in the future, $25,000 to an equipment installation and labor trust fund for maintaining cameras, phone system and intercoms and replacing a mower, and $7,000 to a trust fund for school vehicles.

Both the town and school warrants this year include a proposal, submitted by resident petition for Pembroke to switch to the SB2 method of elections, which includes ballot voting on all issues.

Pembroke’s school district annual meeting will take place March 11 at 10 a.m. Ballot voting for town officers will take place March 14 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., and town meeting will take place March 18 at 10 a.m. All three events will take place at Pembroke Academy.

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