In Pittsfield, lower taxes favored over school staffing

  • Poll workers Elizabeth Hast and Roberta Maxfield assisting voter Jason Isabelle at Pittsfield Middle High School in Pittsfield on Tuesday, March 9, 2021. Melissa Curran—Monitor staff

  • Voter Daniel Mullen receives his ballot from poll worker Cara Marston and Leslie Voght at Pittsfield Middle High School in Pittsfield on Tuesday. Melissa Curran / Monitor staff

  • Seventh and eighth graders listen to English teacher Chris Davitt (center) during an interdisciplinary humanities block at Pittsfield Middle High School on Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

Monitor staff
Published: 3/10/2021 4:10:25 PM

Voters in Pittsfield, asked to choose between cuts to school staff and lower property taxes, or stability in their educational programs and higher taxes, spoke with pinched wallets on Election Day.

In a vote of 513-202, the town passed the modestly proposed operating budget of $10.03 million, a welcome result for homeowners, instead of the higher default budget, with $900,000 in additional spending and a $2.58 hike per $1,000 of assessed property value.

The difference between the two proposals equaled about $775 extra in annual taxes on a home worth $300,000, and those sort of numbers have taken on increased importance since COVID interrupted life one year ago.

“The message from voters turned out to be obvious,” said John Graziano, the interim superintendent. “They do not at this time want an increase in taxes, and I respect that.”

The school warrant article had been considered a close call between and the two competing budgets split elected officials, with the budget committee recommending the lower figure and the school board endorsing the higher one. Still, no one thought voting would be as lopsided as it was.

“A landslide,” Graziano said. “I wanted to remain optimistic through our chance with the default budget. Having to cut about a million dollars from a modest budget is hard to do.”

School officials predict 13.5 jobs will now be lost, including eight teaching positions, a problem compounded by the fact that state aid is expected to decrease.

Katie Bachelder, vice chair of the budget committee, was not available for comment on Wednesday, but she had been one of seven members who supported the smaller spending proposal, believing lower taxes should take center stage.

She, like Graziano and others, saw this as a no-win situation, although it’s likely that property owners were happy with the result.

“I, of course, can see both sides, and I realize what a tough decision voters are being faced with,” Bachelder wrote in an email before the vote. “It’s not just what kind of impact it has on schools, but the overall impact on taxpayers and business owners who work here.”

Said Graziano, “Now that I see the results, it’s time to roll up our sleeves and do the best we can.”

Elsewhere, voters approved spending $850,000 on educational programs in the district, contingent on receiving federal grants and private donations. Another $330,000 will support the school lunch program.

For two seats on the school board, Adam Gauthier and Justin Clough beat out Howard Irving MacKenzie and Jared Griffin.

On the town side, one of the closest votes on the ballot, 371-322, approved the operating budget of $4.78 million, just $68,000 more than the default budget.

By a 345-344 count, voters rejected depositing $65,000 into the Dump Truck Capital Reserve Fund. Two articles to amend zoning ordinances passed, while two others failed.

None of the town races were contested.

Ray Duckler bio photo

Ray Duckler, our intrepid columnist, focuses on the Suncook Valley. He floats from topic to topic, searching for the humor or sadness or humanity in each subject. A native New Yorker, he loves the Yankees and Giants. The Red Sox and Patriots? Not so much.

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