WEST NEWBURY — A brief philosophical discussion on tax policy came up during a review by the Board of Selectmen last week of 12 articles appearing on a warrant for a Special Town Meeting later this month.
The discussion stemmed from a request voters will consider on Oct. 29 to reduce a line item in the annual omnibus budget governing an assessment for the Pentucket Regional School District. The $165,361 decrease reflects, in part, extra money in the town’s coffers realized after voters in West Newbury approved a budget amount for the schools last spring that was rejected by Groveland and Merrimac, the other two towns in the regional district.
Assuming the request is approved under Article 4 on the warrant, voters will then have the option to consider applying the saved funds toward other items at Town Meeting. Among those is a request for $188,000 in additional spending on a building project for the Page Elementary School. Voters previously funded $10 million for renovation work within the aging school building along with construction of a new gymnasium behind the school.
Article 4 also seeks to increase the Pentucket Capital assessment by $12,379 and to decrease a line item for the Page School Green Repair phase of the building project by $81,934. This reduction reflects a lower actual interest rate on the borrowing than was initially estimated. Finance Director Warren Sproul said the savings would result in a $147 reduction to the average property tax bill, unless town meeting decides to spend the money on other warrant requests.
Selectman Glenn Kemper believes that the excess assessment amount should be returned directly to taxpayers and not added back to the general fund. The money was targeted within the budget specifically for the schools, he noted. “But we didn’t need it, so why assess the people?” he asked.
However, noting that the school assessment was funded without a tax hike this year, selectmen Chairman Bert Knowles said it was the “voters’ prerogative” to decide what happens to any leftover money within the budget.