NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

October 8, 2012

Selectmen disagree on allotment of excess funds

By Jennifer Solis Correspondent
Newburyport Daily News

---- — 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.

“That’s why you have Town Meeting to establish appropriations,” he said.

Kemper then responded that philosophically, he believes “just because we can, doesn’t mean we have to tax our people 2 1/2 percent every year” — referring to the annual limit on increased taxes that a municipality is permitted to levy under state statue.

Selectmen plan to review the warrant for the Oct. 29 meeting with the town moderator and the Finance Committee Wednesday.

In other business, selectmen accepted with regret the resignation of Susan Follansbee from the Historical Commission due to ill health. Kemper’s motion to appoint Erin Rich as a replacement that night received no second. Selectman Dick Cushing said that while he agreed with Kemper’s assessment that Rich was a well-qualified candidate who had applied for the post before and would bring a new perspective to the board, he preferred to “give it a week in the newspapers” before filling the spot.

Wendy Reed was appointed as a full member of the Mill Pond Committee for a three-year term. The committee has an additional opening, which Kemper expressed interest in filling. Anyone else interested should contact the selectmen’s office.

Public Works Director Gary Bill reported that he is investigating options with the Department of Transportation for proposed sidewalk repairs and installations along Main Street. Because the state road has not been upgraded since the 1970s, Bill said one option may be for the DOT to add West Newbury’s section of the state highway to its project list. Sidewalks would also be addressed under that scenario with the state paying for the entire cost. Selectmen will meet with state Sen. Bruce Tarr at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday to discuss the sidewalk issue.

Cushing and Kemper voted in favor of a proclamation to recognize United Nations Day on Oct. 24. However, Knowles abstained from the motion, saying, “Quite frankly, I would kick the UN out of the country and send it some place else.”

Donald Hatt was granted use of the Annex for a wedding reception for his son; the use-of-facility fee was waived. The board also approved a license agreement for contractors on the Page Building project to use the Park and Recreation Building as a field office.

At the close of the open meeting Cushing wished to clarify that Eagle Scout Alex Ing has not entirely ended a project to create orienteering courses in town. Courses were established at Page Elementary School and the Mill Pond Recreation area, but won’t be at the Dunn property.

The board held an executive session to discuss an update on litigation from Town Counsel Michael McCarron, two Elliot Fund requests and outstanding legal fees for former Selectman Tom Atwood.