2019 Raymond Budget Committee Meetings


Budget Chairman Denies Fellow Committee Member Right to Speak
By Leslie O’Donnell    1-11-19  

Raymond Budget Committee chair Carol Watjus stepped down from her post at the Jan. 8 public hearing on the school budget to speak as a citizen, leaving vice chair Josh Mann in charge of the meeting. When Watjus finished her presentation, committee member Joe Saulnier asked to respond to her comments, and Mann gave him permission to do so.

Watjus, however, resuming her seat on the board, said she had asked no questions of the committee, did not ask for a response to her comments, and added, “I don’t want one.”

When Saulnier, who is also chair of the Raymond School Board, said that Mann told him he could respond, as he was at that time in charge of the meeting, Watjus said she would override that, and again said, “that was public comment. I didn’t want a response and I don’t need a response. I didn’t ask a question and I don’t want an answer.”

Committee member Wayne Welch, a selectmen, suggested that Saulnier step down and respond as a citizen, but Saulnier said that would not be fair, as he would be responding as a School Board member, not as a citizen. Welch also cautioned Watjus that everybody needs to be heard.

Board member Dawn “Rani” Merryman asked if public comment had ever been answered, and Saulnier said he always answered it.

Merryman said, “let’s get to the nitty-gritty of the challenge. We went through a lot of deliberation, and several of us thought things could be shaved (from the budget)… There’s frustration.”

Saulnier was not allowed to speak.

In her public comments, Watjus repeated statements urging cuts to the school budget that she had made as chair during previous Budget Committee meetings. She said that “giving the school exactly what they asked for is very irresponsible and alarming. The net operating budget has a $733,225 net increase….I would think that adding $733,225 would be alarming to the people that sit on the committee as well as the taxpayers in town. (Saulnier said after the meeting that the net operating budget is going up to $727,225, which includes a budget increase of $543,416 and a cut in state revenues of $183,809.)

Watjus said the school initiatives were in essence added to the budget and were looking to add things that may have been able to be postponed so as to give relief to taxpayers. “As far as the surplus not being as large, it’s ludicrous to go down the path of ‘they did not give as much back so that is why our taxes went up.’ Look at it this way – they took the money in our taxes the year before and did not spend it…and this went on for several years. So last year they spent the full amount of the budget they asked for.

“I would think there would have been a give-and-take atmosphere on the committee, but instead I feel the taxpayers got the short end of the stick,” she said. “There was a pushing through of the budget that I feel needed more discussion of the pros and cons of what was being asked for. Finances are a difficult area to understand, and full disclosure should be what the taxpayers get in plain language, not a dog and pony show.

“Where are the decreases that show they are looking to tighten their belt?” she asked. “Money does not make a successful school – if it did, Raymond would have seen the improvement by now. It comes down to choices. The School Board chose to think only inside the educational box and not look at the town as a whole.

“To only think of families with students is very selfish,” she continued. “Education is important…but not solely thinking of students only and not everybody else.”

At previous meetings as chair, Watjus had repeatedly urged cutting kindergarten from the current full day to half day and noted that full-day kindergarten is not required by the state. “It had been put in the budget as an initiative, an addition to the budget, not giving the taxpayer a chance to vote on it,” she said. “Before- and after-school programs are not fully funded. Isn’t that what daycare and outside companies that have preschool and daycare are for, not the taxpayer dollars that are for education, not for child-sitting services.

“I am making this comment so the committee hears me as a citizen,” she concluded, again repeating statements she had made at earlier meetings from her seat on the committee. “The continued budget increases are more than the taxpayer can bear. The school should start thinking about all the residents. Where is the balance that should be considered when it comes to deciding between needs and wants….I’m left with no choice than to vote for the (lower) default budget.”

Contacted by Raymond Area News after the meeting, Saulnier said his response would have been that the School Board “has continually looked at ways to save taxpayers money as well as give a high quality education to the students of Raymond. The first priority of the Raymond School Board should be the safety and quality of education that every student receives.

“We completely admit the budget is going up and the biggest reason for that is the new REA (Raymond Education Association teachers’) contract that the voters of Raymond voted on,” Saulnier explained. “The contract alone has an impact of over $400,000. We have also taken CIP (Capital Improvement Program) items and on the advise of the CIP committee, started adding things like computers back into our budget.”

Saulnier noted that for the past eight years, the School Board has brought forth over $2 million in salary adjustment decreases. That total decrease includes increases such as adding full-day kindergarten and two math interventionists. “The past two years we have had two of the three largest salary adjustments in eight years,” he said. “The budget was adjusted twice last year, once during the school board budget process and again during the Budget Committee hearings for a grand total of $625,504. This year it was adjusted another $252,617 during the school budgeting sessions.

“The board has already initiated a plan to look at class sizes at the high school,” he added. “This would take effect next year and give us a clearer picture of what we need to do in the future.”

Saulnier emphasized that the budget surplus is a large factor in taxes going up or down. “When you have a larger surplus than the year before, taxes go down by the difference, and when less is given back, they increase by the difference,” he said. “There was about $700,000 less in surplus to give back to the taxpayers of Raymond. That calculates to about 75 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. Since 2009 the School District has given back more than $5.2 million to the taxpayers of Raymond.

“The Budget Committee in my time as the School Board Representative has never rubber stamped our budget,” Saulnier concluded. “This year alone we had several hours of discussion and answered 46 written questions from the Budget Committee as well as several hours of verbal discussion on the matter. The School Board and this District have always been very transparent to the citizens of Raymond. Our administration and Board members are more than willing to listen and answer questions the citizens of Raymond may have.” He referred residents to the District website at SAU33.com.

Resident Katherin Mann also spoke during public comment and explained she works in finance for the county. “I think the school has done a fantastic job in putting a budget together…but the cost of doing business is up,” she said. “I’ll admit I’ve proposed school budget cuts…so I applaud the school this year.

Noting the initial budget showed an increase of 4 or 5 percent, she said it had been cut by the School Board to 2.2 percent.

“Personally, I think they have done a fantastic job and have thought of the community and have thought about their students’ needs and their staff,” she added. “I’ll be voting for their budget.”

Resident Art Wolinsky spoke as well, and noted he had worked in education for more than 40 years. “”What I have seen happening in this district over the last few years is a tremendous growth toward improving the school, doing the job past boards have not been able to do with the same amount of money,” he said. “I’ve seen this board working with a lean budget and doing things to bring the district into the 21st century, and that’s what you have to look at more than anything else.

“What I want people to understand is that this board has been fiscally responsible and has been putting forth the maximum effort to get the most they can for the dollar for the community,” he concluded.

Merryman made a motion to revisit the vote on the school budget, but following discussion later in the meeting, after Watjus polled the board and found only herself and Merryman in favor of voting again, no action was taken. Member Sharon Stolts was not in attendance, and Josh Mann said the vote would not be fair to her because she had voted previously. The vote stands at 5-2, with Merryman and Watjus opposed, in favor of recommending the budget.

Merryman said that if the citizens do not like the budget, they can vote for the default.

 

Town Budget and Articles

 

Town Manager Joe Ilsley opened the hearing after public comment with a presentation of the Town revenue report and noted a revenue report had not been submitted to the Budget Committee last year.  He added that the report was an estimate, as everything had not been finalized yet.

He also responded to a Raymond resident who addressed the committee and expressed concern over rising taxes. She said she was speaking because at the previous hearing it was said that no one had come forward to ask to hold down taxes.

Ilsley said he received “significant concern and guidance from the Board of Selectmen to mitigate the tax impact. Even if all our Town warrant articles pass, the current Town tax rate, which normally comprises 24 to 25 percent of the total tax rate, would be $5.93 per thousand.” That compares to the current Town tax rate of $6.58 per thousand.

“The municipal tax rate has gone down,” Ilsley emphasized, noting it had not been below $6 per thousand since about 2013.

The overall revenue for last year was estimated at $3,940,670, with actual revenue at $4,729,391, for a difference of $788,021, Ilsley said. He estimated 14-1/2 percent growth from the estimate last year.

While motor vehicle permits came in at $2,169,310, Ilsley said they are projected to be $1,800,000 this year. He explained that fewer people buy new vehicles when interest rates rise, and rates have risen this past year. He said he reduced the revenue projection from building permits for the same reason.

“The dynamics in this community are mostly blue collar, and if there’s a downturn in the economy, it would hit the blue collar worker first,” he added.

Article 8 on the Town warrant is the collective bargaining agreement for 16 members of AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees), approved the night before by the Board of Selectmen and previously ratified by the union.

In discussing the contract, Ilsley said the warrant article would raise $21,990 for the remaining portion of the current fiscal year to cover increases in salaries and benefits for the current workforce. Its tax impact would be 2.3 cents per thousand. For successive years, the cost would be an additional $28,043 in 2020, $28,654 in 2021, $29,432 in 2022, $30,327 in 2023, and $14,097 for a portion of 2024.

Josh Mann pointed out later in the meeting that collective bargaining agreements allow costs to creep higher every year.

“We’re talking about things that impact the budget,” he said. “When we voted (last year) to approve the teachers’ contract, it goes up each year, forcing an increase in the budget by contract.”

Merryman responded that Ilsley had said the new contract would actually produce cost savings for the Town.

Ilsley said the strategy for the contract was to get out of buy-outs, reduce “in lieu of” payments and introduce a performance-based system. “It gets us out of buy-out liabilities of $108,000 a year, and will save Raymond millions of dollars,” he said.

“Long-term costs were negotiated out of the contract,” Welch said. “We’re going to see huge savings in health care costs.” He acknowledged, however, that any savings would fluctuate based on personnel and their work hours.

“There’s a net savings to this contract,” Merryman said. “(Ilsley) did a fantastic job in negotiating this contract.”

The article was recommended by the committee.

Article 10, to establish a contingency fund and raise and appropriate $195,000 from the fund balance to be placed in that fund, also received a committee recommendation.

Welch said the rationale for the article is that the Town Manager developed a budget that is “really, really close to the line.” The fund would be established in case an unexpected need arose during the year and instead of having to borrow money against taxes and pay interest on a loan, the money could be taken from the contingency fund.

“Things get complicated at certain times of year,” he said. “We felt a contingency fund was warranted because we don’t want to borrow money.”

Merryman said she thinks Ilsley did a great job of cutting and rearranging the budget, and “I would vote yes on this but keep a close eye on it.”

Article 12, a new article for the Waste Disposal Special Revenue Fund, also known as Fund 18, was placed on the ballot after its need was noted by the New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration (DRA). It asks voters to approve the withdrawal of $772,000 from the Special Waste Disposal Reserve Fund, known as Fund 18.

If this article is defeated, the Town could not continue its pay-as-you-throw solid waste program.

Ilsley said that if Article 12 fails, “it would kill the trash program and would mean hundreds of thousands of dollars are just sitting in the fund that we can’t get access to. It only gives us legal authority to access the money for the program. It would be a shame to have $600,000 sitting in a fund that we can’t access, and it destroys a perfectly good program.”

“It allows us to pay for waste disposal,” Welch reiterated. “We collect money from the sale of bags and the transfer station, and this article allows us to spend that money. We can have this article go to the voters every year or establish this as a revolving fund – we should have been putting this on the warrant all along.”

Asked why it was not presented as a revolving fund this year, Welch said it was a matter of timing. “I wouldn’t be surprised next year to see a revolving fund article come forward,” he noted.

In his presentation on article 12, Ilsley explained DRA’s concern. “We’ve been getting access to money wrong,” he said. “It was set up as a special revenue fund, and that requires annual legislative approval.” He added that DRA said misunderstanding of how to correctly access such funds occurs all across the state.

The article has no tax impact.

The committee then discussed the Town budget, article 7. The proposed operating budget is $7,714,563, the water department operating budget is $1,046,387, and the total budget is $8,760,950. If article 7 is defeated, the default budget of $8,817,098 would be authorized (a town default budget of $7,828,920 with a default water department operating budget of $988,178).

“I think they worked very hard on the budget and eliminated all the excess brought up in the past two years,” Watjus said.

“I love how they mitigated a lot of future liabilities,” Merryman added.

The committee approved recommending the budget on a 5-1 vote, with Mann voting no. In explanation of his no vote, Mann said, “I think it’s funny that it’s OK to make a motion to rubber stamp the Town budget but it’s not OK to have a motion to rubber stamp the school budget.”

“I did try to cut the Town budget and I was voted down, so what you said is incorrect,” Watjus responded. “We made an effort to make some cuts and voted not to do that. I’m going to take the high road and am not going to sit here and argue with you.”

Merryman added that the town budget went down while the school budget went up.

“I’ve had enough – I don’t want to go over this again,” Watjus said. “It’s water under the bridge.”

The board agreed with Watjus’s request to cancel the Jan. 15 public hearing and meeting because the committee’s work was done.


Budget Committee Recommends School Budget in 5-2 Vote
By Leslie O’Donnell  1-8-19

When the Jan. 3 Raymond Budget Committee hearing turned to the school budget, vice chair Josh Mann immediately motioned to recommend it on the ballot as presented, and a second was quickly offered. Budget Committee chairman Carol Watjus responded that she “as chair, can decline that motion” so as to allow discussion.

However, Selectman Wayne Welch, a Budget Committee member, advised her that the motion and second “means it can be discussed.” The proposed budget is $25,235,171, and the default is $$24,953,346.

The motion remained on the floor and discussion ensued.

“I think the school has done an excellent job,” Mann said. “I’m excited that I see some changes coming. I’m excited to have  (Superintendent of Schools) Tina (McCoy) and (business administrator) Marjorie (Whitmore).” He noted the budget has a 2.2 percent increase, which he termed “reasonable.

“I think the funds are being spent prudently for the education of kids, and finally we have a year where we don’t have a high surplus,” he added. “Every year I proposed cuts because of their massive surplus. Now we’ve hit that wall of no surplus, so if we start hacking the school budget, where does that put us? I can nickel and dime lines but they understand the CIP (Capital Improvement Program) process this year and have a technology plan.

“This is rock solid,” Mann said of the school budget. “Kudos to the school district; you guys have done a great job.”

Watjus responded that there had been a lot of discussion at previous meetings about the decrease in state revenue to the district, with taxpayers required to make that up, but Mann pointed out that the decrease had nothing to do with school district action – it was a downshifting of retirement system expenses by the legislature from the state to the schools.

He called her viewpoint disingenuous. “This is downshifting, it’s an external factor,” he said.

School board chairman Joe Saulnier, a Budget Committee member, emphasized as well that it was the state legislature that decided the towns could support this tax burden.

Turning to cuts, Watjus said, “initiatives were added without a chance for taxpayers to vote on them. To sit there and rubber stamp a budget – I don’t want to argue with you, Josh; all you want to do is fight with me. I have opinions and I should be able to say them.”

Mann said he did not want to fight with her, but to help her.

Continuing to counter Mann’s motion, Watjus said, “Schools spend a lot of money and children are important, but they’re not the only thing in town that is important. All the taxpayers are, every single taxpayer….Let’s take a few steps back and make a few cuts and save the taxpayer a little bit… and do it for all the people, not just 1,200 students. It’s my responsibility to look at the whole picture – to sit there and not look at one cut, it’s not right for the community, not right for the taxpayer.”

At a previous hearing, Watjus had proposed cutting the preschool program’s non-disabled enrollment and cutting kindergarten from the current full-day program to half day.

Watjus prefaced her comments at the Jan. 3 meeting several times by saying she was “not against children,” but maintained that “when you look at the whole town, the people who are elderly and on fixed income, we have 1,200 students and over 10,000 people who live here. We have to take all of it in a balance into consideration.”

The children, she said, are not the most important ones; “How about giving the taxpayer a breather for one year?”

Committee member Dawn “Rani” Merryman agreed with Watjus that the taxpayer needs a break. “My proposal to hold the budget steady to where it was last year still is a valid proposal,” she said. “We need to fight for the taxpayer, we need to hold the line for them. The economy is not going well, and it looks like it’s going to be in a downturn. We should not be rubber-stamping budgets.”

Speaking from the public, resident and Raymond High School para-educator Gretchen Gott said she and Mann have not always agreed, but she does agree with his motion to approve the school budget. “I’m a taxpayer and it’s a lot of money, I agree, and I’ve had to make adjustments. But I agree with Josh that it should be approved as is,” she said.

“The cuts both of you made,” she said in addressing Watjus and Merryman, “are very drastic.” Gott noted the school district made cuts before the budget ever reached the Budget Commission.

And addressing Merryman’s comments about the economy, she said, “We have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, and economically, New Hampshire, we’re doing pretty well.”

Mann noted that in past years, many residents have appeared at the Budget Committee to ask for cuts; this year that has not happened. “People came in (this year) and said we need to improve our schools,” Mann said. “They want us to improve our schools.”

He said the school district wants to hire a maintenance guy who will potentially reduce the CIP and maintenance costs, “and we’re buying computers to replace those that are outdated. We have to have technology – it’s the cost of doing business.

“In my heart and mind, I say this is a prudent application of public funds, and let’s give it a whirl,” Mann added. “It’s the right thing to do for the town right now. Let’s give it a try.”

Saulnier said the same discussion about the school budget occurs every year, and noted the School Board looks at every department’s budget. “Kids have had to wait in some cases a very long time for new technology,” he said. “We hired a new superintendent to help out the school district, and it makes no sense if we don’t give her the tools to improve the district.”

Watjus said she thinks the budget has fallen short in dealing with the student/teacher ratio. “There’s places they can tighten their belt,” she said. “I feel strongly something should be decreased in the budget.”

Saulnier said this year the school board cut a science teacher and half an English teacher position when it crafted the budget, and produced the master schedule early, “so we will look at cutting teachers if there are not enough kids in a class.”

Saulnier added, “I don’t think it’s prudent to cut when we’re trying to improve (the district). We’d be cutting things Tina (McCoy) said we could do to help the district. I’d rather give her that chance.” He said cuts would hurt, and the default budget would hurt as well.

Committee member Sharon Stolts pointed to Raymond’s poor test scores and said larger class size is not the answer. “If you start recommending larger class size, parents will say you are against the school. The number one thing private schools advertise is small class sizes. As a parent, it’s a big red flag,” she said.

She added that even with the Town and school budgets as presented, it’s a tax decrease from last year.

“At the end of the day, I’m OK with the school budget as it’s written,” Stolts said. “I’d like to see it even more.  I don’t think they’re asking for anything outrageous.”

Gott again spoke and noted that the increases in the past year’s budget were approved by the taxpayers, while resident Katherin Mann pointed out that approval rests with the taxpayers – “that’s how voting works, it goes with the majority.” She told the committee to put together the numbers and leave it to the taxpayer.

“Let us worry about that portion of it; we’ll vote as we see fit,” she said.

Gott later noted that Raymond High School faces an accreditation visit in April, which she termed “extremely important” for the school and its graduates. “We will be reviewed on our community support for the budget,” she said. “One of the things that attracts development to the community is a good school system.”

Committee member Sara Maldonado said she agreed with Josh Mann’s motion and his comments. “The school board has made cuts and did its due diligence,” she said, saying additional cuts would have a significant impact on the quality of education. “They cut positions and it’s not nice to see, but it shows they have done their homework. I would pay more – educating kids is my top priority.”

Welch said he would support the budget because he elected five people to the school board to represent the best interests of the community, “and I think this is the direction that makes sense. I’m not going to lose sleep over not cutting a half percent (to make up for the loss of state funding). I will personally support the budget.”

A Raymond parent spoke about her concerns over Watjus’s proposal to cut back on typical students in the district’s preschool. As a parent of a disabled student and a substitute teacher in the elementary school, she said the preschool teachers are “fantastic” and added, “I implore you, if you want to cut anything, spend time and talk with the teachers in the preschool. I would hate to see us go backwards.”

While Watjus said it would be up to the school board to specify cuts in the budget, Saulnier reminded her that she had specifically wanted to cut preschool and kindergarten.

“The Budget Committee should recommend places to cut, but we can’t tell (the school board) to cut there,” Watjus responded, telling the audience they should be speaking to the school board, not the committee.

She asked Special Education Director Scott Riddell what preschool options are available by state law, and was told there are three – the currently offered 50 percent disabled, 50 percent non-disabled split; a preschool with 100 percent Special Education pupils; and a preschool open to everyone in the community, as kindergarten is, which would mean many more non-disabled pupils.

“Without an integration program, a parent would fight us and win, as they have the right to be with regular kids,” McCoy explained. She said that without its current preschool arrangement and 50/50 ratio, the District would have to send staff and children to other districts’ programs, which would be more expensive.

“The fact that you can cut a significant portion of the budget forces the issue,” Gott told Watjus and Merryman. “It’s disingenuous to think what you do tonight would not have an effect. It would have a significant effect.”

“We love children,” Merryman responded. “But we have to have a solution to raising taxes. We have to balance the difference between the taxpayer saying ‘we can’t afford everything we want,’ with other people with kids in school, wanting more.”

Kristin Wallace, a Raymond resident and parent who has taught in town for 25 years, told the Committee, “we’re here because when you propose big cuts, we want you to at least see our faces.”

“We need to improve what we’re doing and we know where we need to improve,” McCoy said. “There’s a lot of work going on, and we’re also doing more p.r. (public relations) and outreach to let people know what great things are going on in Raymond. There’s not a quick fix.”

“One of the major issues is our past,” Saulnier added. “Raymond schools are not bad. We need to start promoting that. Taxes rose because the school district did not give back a huge surplus, and the voters approved the teachers’ contract last year.”

“I’m really proud to be on the school board,” said school board member Beth Paris. “I ran to see things change. We’re really fortunate to have hired Tina McCoy, and that she hired Curriculum Coordinator Mike Whaland. He shows us real data – we asked for the math interventionist because of his data on math.

“People don’t know because they don’t pay attention and are not present at our meetings, and they’re quick to criticize,” she said. “The path they have us on is where we should be going.”

Gott, who earlier said she has never had children or grandchildren in Raymond schools, spoke again, and said, “it appears we are moving toward a user fee atmosphere. I’ve heard it said on this committee that if you don’t have kids, you shouldn’t have to be paying for education. I think we have to be very careful about dividing our community.

“In the way some people think, I shouldn’t have to support children in the Raymond school system,” Gott said. “I absolutely have an obligation as a citizen to support the school system. We need to look at what is best for all members of the community.”

“We need to look at this broadly,” Mann said. “Is it an appropriate and prudent use of money – is the question.”

The vote to recommend the school budget as presented was 5-2, with Watjus and Merryman opposed.

 

Pinkerton Advisory Article

 

Also generating significant discussion was School Article 10, an advisory article that asks voters whether the School District should form a committee to study the possibility of the District’s entering a tuition agreement for Raymond High School students with Pinkerton Academy, and authorizing the School Board to conduct a building needs assessment and design analysis of the potential to convert and renovate RHS into an elementary school. The article would also raise and appropriate up to $50,000 for committee and needs assessment costs.

McCoy and Whitmore presented updated information on the Pinkerton proposal, with Whitmore cautioning that the cost of moving the elementary school to the high school and getting it operational was not yet known.

Saulnier explained the School Board is seeking direction in whether to continue to pursue the possibility of tuitioning RHS students to Pinkerton.

He said the board received legal advice that it did not have to vote to recommend or not recommend it because the advisory article is not considered a “special” article.

Watjus expressed concern and said she thinks the article should be broken into two parts – one, to form the committee, and the second, to authorize the funding of the study. Saulnier said, however, that legal advice to the school board was to combine the two into one article. “This is not a binding article,” he emphasized.

Merryman said she found the language of the article to be “limiting” with only Pinkerton considered, but Saulnier explained the School District had contacted many nearby school districts and all said they were not interested except for Manchester, Sanborn Regional and Pinkerton.

“In the board’s mind, this is the best opportunity,” he said of the Pinkerton option.

Paris spoke from the audience to say, “If we had left it open-ended, people would have the false hope that maybe Coe-Brown might want us,” she said. “We did research and only Pinkerton wanted to take us. What happens far too much in this town is people hear catch phrases and run with them.”

Wallace, who said she would move out of Raymond if the district tuitioned its high schoolers to Pinkerton, asked about a committee to consider what to do with the resulting empty building if the elementary school were moved. Josh Mann noted the Town has space needs.

Gott cited quality of life impact if the high school students were sent out of town.

Welch said he thinks the vote on the article will come down to “yes, I want kids to go to Pinkerton,” or “no, I want the kids to stay in Raymond.”

Stolts said that what happens in a school district is a big factor in whether people move to that town.

The board eventually voted 2-4-1 to recommend Article 10, meaning the board will not recommend it. In favor were Mann and Merryman; opposed were Welch, Maldonado, Watjus and Stolts; and abstaining was Saulnier.

The committee also discussed whether it had approved the Town budget in a past meeting, and found that it had not. No minutes were available. Watjus said the Town budget would be discussed Jan. 8, when two more articles – a Town labor contract and a new article about Fund 18, the solid waste fund - are completed and ready for action.

In addition, Katherin Mann pointed out there was no revenue presentation on the Town budget, and Welch said he would make sure that was available Jan. 8.

“It’s a concern that no one has caught this in all your meetings,” she said.

 


2019 Budget Committee Hearings Continue, Look at School Cuts
By Leslie O’Donnell    12-28-18

A sometimes contentious series of Raymond Budget Committee public hearings led discussion through the Town and School District budgets and money warrant articles, with several failed attempts to vote against recommending articles.

Committee member Josh Mann did not attend the Dec. 13 and 18 meetings because of work commitments, but submitted a letter stating that both the Town and School District had made excellent efforts to minimize costs as much as possible, and he would like to see both budgets approved as presented, with no changes. Committee member Sharon Stolts was absent from the Dec. 18 meeting.

Few members of the public spoke at the public hearings, although resident Carolyn Matthews read at the Dec. 11 meeting from a prepared letter outlining her concerns with both the Town and School District budgets. She said she viewed them as examples of short-term planning and countered that building a budget is more than raising or flattening taxes but should be an opportunity to set priorities, make choices, conduct performance audits and engage in strategic planning.

“The budget has to be made with a realistic eye to current local, state and regional economics,” said Matthews. “A big concern is that as the enrollment continues to drop in our schools, especially between the middle and high schools, I don’t think the school budget has responded to that situation. And nationally, I think we’re looking at an economic downturn.”

At the Dec. 11 meeting, tension arose when Mann told Town Manager Joe Ilsley that the Town’s default budget was prepared incorrectly. Ilsley responded that his integrity had never been questioned.

“When this process started, I asked the Budget Committee to assist us as a collaborative effort, so if there’s something to adjust, let’s do it,” he pointed out. “Any assistance this board would provide us, we would appreciate it. Let’s do right by the taxpayer and not turn it into a circus show. If there’s anything in the default that is not in line with RSA (state statute), just let us know. I don’t look at you as a hostile body – let’s work together.”

Mann said he was making a clarifying point.

Ilsley explained that the previous budget was approved with numerous errors, which legally had to be carried over into the proposed default budget. “The line adjustments have been made, but they could not be transferred to the default budget,” he said.

He also noted that nothing has been encumbered in the proposed budget. “We budgeted what we will need,” he said.

When talk turned to the School District budget, Matthews said, “the only path forward is to deal with falling enrollment. Decreased class size is not a magic bullet. I want to see my tax dollars go for high-performing teachers.” She referenced the practice of filling retiring teachers’ positions with new teachers who receive lower pay, and said that would reach a “tipping point.”

Generating the most discussion on the Town side at the Dec. 13 meeting were warrant articles relating to trash collection, a new firefighter position, and social service agency funding.

In addressing the trash collection article, Selectman Wayne Welch, who sits on the Budget Committee, said Raymond has one of the highest recycling rates in Rockingham County. He noted that if more people choose to use private haulers as a result of the warrant article, that could lead to damage to the roads from heavy vehicles, and in turn cost the Town more money.

The solid waste article asks voters if they wish to raise and appropriate $305,000 to continue to subsidize the Solid Waste/“Pay As You Throw” Program. “If passed, these funds will be distributed to the Waste Disposal Fund known as Fund 18 and continue to subsidize all curbside collection, disposal of household trash and allowed recyclables,” the article as currently written states.

This subsidy will be added to the funds generated through the sale of bags, sale of recycle bins and transfer station revenues to cover program costs, the article states. The subsidy is intended to offset the fees of the program to users and keep bag prices below private market rates.

If the article is defeated, all program costs not covered through the sale of recycle bins and transfer station revenues would be fully funded by the user through bag sales, with an estimated bag sale price of $3.25 for small bags and $4.25 for large bags.

“The question is: for the trash program that exists today, how does the Town wish to pay for it, “ Ilsley said.

After Committee member Joe Saulnier repeatedly explained to chairman Carol Watjus that they could not recommend a no vote, but instead could vote down a yes vote, the Committee voted 0-6 on a motion to recommend the solid waste article. That means the Committee does not recommend it.

Welch said that the article that would fund a full-time firefighter at $84,025 represents Fire Chief Paul Hammond’s hope to increase coverage of the department. Saulnier pointed out that it would not be in the default budget next year because it was not included in the operating fund budget this year, but there was unresolved discussion as to whether it could be placed in next year’s default if the article passes.

Watjus opposed recommending the article. “We put in a firefighter position last year and the Fire Department is running pretty well and coverage is OK,” she said. “We’re on track to get the budget under control, and my philosophy is to ‘spread the wealth.’ Other departments need other things, and we have (mutual aid) coverage from other towns, so it’s not going to hurt if there’s a fire.”

Welch pointed out that the towns surrounding Raymond, which would respond to mutual aid calls, do not have full-time firefighters, so there would be no guarantee that volunteer firefighters from those towns would be available.

Watjus said she was happy to see the firefighter request as a warrant article rather than in the budget. “I don’t think it’s something that should be on this year,” she said.

“I might agree that as we added a full-time firefighter last year, we may want to not fund one this year,” Committee member Dawn “Rani” Merryman said.

Welch, however, said the Town did not add a full-time firefighter last year -  “we always had that position but had not filled it. We put the money back in and the new chief filled it.”

Merryman said the Committee “may want to not recommend this. We really take into consideration what the community needs, and we need to make sure we are making conservative decisions.”

In response to a question, Welch said the Fire Department has four full-time firefighters and noted it is an on-call department. The Committee approved recommending the warrant article 4-2, with Watjus and Merryman voting no.

The social service agency funding articles, currently Articles 24-36, led to considerable discussion. This year, each agency’s request is a separate article, as some residents had requested; in the past, all the agencies had been lumped together in one article.

“My view on this is that philanthropy should not be done as tax dollars,” Merryman said. “I understand townspeople use these agencies, but this is money people are escrowing on their mortgages, and we are using it to support non-profits and not-for-profits, and I have an issue with that.
“I don’t think it’s a responsible use of tax dollars, and I would zero out (funding) these articles,” she said.

Watjus agreed with her and called such funding “forced philanthropy.

“We’re not saying these are not good agencies,” Watjus said, but noted residents already fund them through their federal, county and state taxes and can make individual donations that could be used as deductions on their income tax.

“Open up your wallet, but don’t open the taxpayers’ wallets,” she said. “If the Town doesn’t put the money on the warrant, people will not be turned away.”

Merryman said Raymond is the poorest community in Rockingham County, and people moving to Raymond expect to pay for services such as road repair and water, not social services. “This is completely inappropriate use of government,” she added. “We’re not talking about what our town needs, we’re talking about something that someone in town might think it would be good to have. These groups hire people to do charity work.”

Saulnier noted that the combined social service warrant article has been the most popular vote-getter in years past.

“All the other articles are for Town services,” Merryman emphasized. “These are for charitable organizations that are completely aside of what the Town does. Offer them a free table at the Town Fair, but it’s not OK to take someone else’s money and give it to charity.”

Merryman then offered a motion to give each agency $100, rather than the individual sums requested in the articles.

Welch raised philosophical issues but said the fairest approach is to put it to a public vote. “It’s a personal choice,” he said. “The reason we need these agencies is that for the last two generations, society has not come together to teach kids the basics of human kindness. These agencies are trying to salvage that – they are fixing the problems we’ve created. We created a problem we’re saying we’re not going to fix.”

Committee member Sharon Stolts said she “would love to see the money going somewhere with immediate impact.”

Merryman’s motion to lower each agency to $100 failed, with two votes – Merryman and Watjus – in favor. A motion to recommend each of the social service articles also failed, and the Committee will not recommend Articles 24-36.

The Committee voted unanimously to recommend the article that is the Capital Improvement Committee recommendations for Capital Reserve Funds. “Because Raymond has a habit of not using the CIP (Capital Improvement Plan) correctly, we’ve had huge tax increases,” Watjus said. “The Board of Selectmen recognize that has happened and is moving in the right direction. This year they’ve made an incredible improvement. I think we are making huge strides on the Town side. Both the Town and School are transitioning things out of the CIP and into their budgets slowly.”

Discussion followed the presentation of a warrant article for the purchase of a public works vehicle with no tax impact because the money would come from the Unassigned Fund Balance. Merryman said, “the taxpayers already paid for this and the money will be taken from the Town’s savings account.”

Welch said that “after listening to the community, (the selectmen) decided to use the Unassigned Fund Balance for the truck. It will give the CIP a real boost.”

“Wayne is correct,” Watjus said. “It’s not hurting anything to do this – it’s good use of the money because our vehicles are so deteriorated. This means we can save for the next vehicle.”

Merryman noted that even with this purchase, the Town’s Unassigned Fund Balance is well within the amount recommended by the State of New Hampshire. “I would love to use the tax dollars we’ve already paid,” she said.

“This is the very first year that our auditors have come here and said, ‘you are finally doing something right, you are where you should be – keep up the good work,’” Welch added.

The same idea applied to the following article, for the purchase of a Public Works heavy equipment vehicle with zero tax impact, and cost to be taken from the Unassigned Fund Balance. Both articles were recommended unanimously.
Also recommended unanimously were the two articles for sick and vacation leave for non-union and for union Town employees, with no amount taken from taxes. The money would come from the surplus.

And recommended unanimously were articles for an increase in the elderly tax exemption; tax-deed properties Capital Reserve Fund; water Capital Reserve Fund; road reconstruction; shim and overlay; mosquito control; scholarship; Fourth of July; and replacement of Raymond streetlights with LED (light emitting diode) lighting.

As talk turned to the Town budget, Merryman asked whether a “large portion” of the $260,000 remaining in the surplus for 2018 could be used to reduce the tax rate. Welch said it was too late in the budget year for that to happen now, but could be discussed in the fall.

At an earlier meeting, Matthews had said she would be concerned with spending the bulk of the unassigned fund balance if nothing were returned to the taxpayer, creating a problem of trust.

In another discussion, Watjus told the audience that Welch was on the committee to represent the Board of Selectmen and Saulnier to represent the School Board, and thus each would always vote yes on those matters.

Saulnier disagreed, saying that was not necessarily true.

“You have to vote what your board told you to,” Watjus responded. Saulnier, however, said that in the past, he had suggested changes to the school budget that went through the budget committee and then were passed later on by the School Board.

Also discussed were contracted services in the budget for MS4 (Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System), which involves stormwater discharge. The budget contains $20,000 for a Public Works consultant on MS4, and Watjus said the Town could save that money by using the services of the Rockingham Planning Commission, of which it is a paying member.

“I feel that paying a consultant is paying double, and it’s extra money we don’t need to spend,” she said.

Welch, however, said MS4 compliance is coming due, and with an outside consultant, “we control our own destiny. If we rely on Rockingham Planning, we would not be controlling our destiny, and I’d be afraid. (MS4) is a huge burden on communities, and we’re lumped with the Boston area.

“Our belief is that we needed help and wanted to hire a consultant,” he said. “It’s like having a full-time planner vs. using the Planning Commission – they have a lot of communities to deal with but we’re on our consultant’s front page. I’m afraid we’re going to be in trouble if we didn’t have professional help.”

Merryman said, “we probably need a private consultant, based on my experience with the rain tax in Maryland.”

Addressing the budget, Merryman said, “we’ve been quite a mess. There is no magic pill for this. I think Joe (Ilsley) has done a wonderful job – this is the first step to where we should be.”

School District Budget, Articles

When discussion turned to the School District warrant articles and focused on Article 3, the Raymond Educational Support Staff (RESS) collective bargaining agreement, a heated back-and-forth exchange occurred between Watjus and Saulnier.

Watjus said she had a lot of issues with the contract. “The School Board gave a lot away to a lot of workers,” she said. The contract covers food service, custodial, clerical and nursing staff and paraeducators.

She focused on the cost of medical insurance. Currently the District pays 97.5 percent of current employees’ medical insurance cost, with the new contract changing that to 96 percent in the first year, 95 percent in the second year and 94 percent in the third year. For those hired after July 1, 2019, the District would pay 90 percent in the first year and 88 percent in years two and three.

“If you vote no, we will be paying 97.5 percent for everyone in the agreement,” Saulnier explained, but Watjus said the negotiated amount is a “high burden on the taxpayers. It should have been negotiated lower. Just renegotiate.”

Saulnier said it could not be renegotiated until next year, but Watjus responded, “We’re giving away the store….We can agree to disagree, and you don’t have to raise your voice to me.”

When Saulnier corrected Watjus on what is involved with a change from 35 to 30 hours to determine full-time status for RESS members – Saulnier explaining that qualifying for medical benefits has already been at 30 hours – Watjus said, “if you’d like to run the Budget Committee, you can get voted in.”

Welch said it would be a courtesy for Saulnier to be allowed to comment.

“This is a great contract for employees,” Merryman said, but Saulnier pointed out that the district would be saving $1,800 on each new employee in terms of medical insurance.

The Committee voted 4-2, with Merryman and Watjus opposed, to recommend approval of Article 3.

Discussion ensued about the need to increase class size. “We have to get out of the educational mindset – we have to look at how much the taxpayer can bear,” Watjus said.

Stolts said, however, that raising class size would keep parents from moving to Raymond. “We have to do what is good for the overall community,” she said. “If you’re trying to impact the community and get people to move here, you can’t cut the schools. We need to put time and energy today into STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and into technology.”

At the Dec. 18 meeting, Watjus turned to the “Basic Law of Budgeting” book to explain the role of the committee in providing the electorate with the information to “properly manage town affairs.” She said the budget committee becomes the arbiter to maintain the tax load within manageable proportions.

“We really need to hold the line and not have a tax increase this year,” she added.

Looking at the school budget, Merryman said it would be “wonderful” to have “another groundskeeper,” referring to an initiative for hiring that position, but said this could be held off for another year.

“The same with adding a second math interventionist,” she said, noting the recent tax increase. “We should get data to show that the current math interventionist position is working.

“Not only are the taxpayers expected to deal with the increase in the new contract but also the added weight of a drop in state revenue,” Merryman said.

Board member Sara Maldonado had no suggestions for cuts to the school budget, but Merryman had several. Pointing to some classes at the high school with three, four or five students, she said, “we can save money by combining classes. Enrollment is down by 175 kids over the last five years.”

Saulnier noted the district is reworking the master schedule and was scheduled to discuss it at its meeting the following evening (see related story).

“It comes down to choices,” Watjus said. “The town’s been promised over and over again that we’re going to do something with enrollment being down. It’s our choice to determine the amount of money.”

“We’re going to end up hurting the kids,” Saulnier said, and Merryman pointed out, “this is a great reason to look at another high school.” She said she could see cutting three to six teachers this coming year.

“Just slashing that many teachers in one year is irresponsible,” Saulnier responded. Asked about the cost of a teacher, he said it could range from approximately $50,000 to $80,000.

Merryman also referenced cutting the JAG (Jobs for America’s Graduates) program and long-distance learning. And she was concerned with a $24,000 increase in new equipment for the elementary school and almost $30,000 for the middle school.

“I know computers and technology are very important but we’re putting ourselves in a dangerous position buying a large amount in one year,” she said. “Maybe we should be doing one school at a time.”

Saulnier explained that the district is doing just that. “We’re already behind the eight-ball on this, and that’s what we need to catch up,” he said.

“I’m not really convinced that computers make successful children in school,” Merryman said. “I don’t think they all need screens.”

Saulnier said the money would give the district enough computers for one grade per year for the next five years at the middle school, but Merryman said she would like to see technology money reduced from $54,000 to $25,000.

Merryman also suggested level-funding school supplies. Her total list of cuts included the initiatives for a math interventionist and a groundskeeper, eliminating three teachers, cutting the JAG program, cutting technology and cutting after-school supplies, for a total of $679,942.

Welch said he would like to see the school district make up for the decrease in state revenue – reducing the bottom line by the amount of lost revenue of almost $184,000.

Watjus then listed her proposed areas to cut. She would like the preschool to reduce half the number of non-disabled students, changing the ratio of students from the current half with disabilities, half without, to two-thirds disabled, and said this would eliminate one teacher. Saulnier cautioned that the teacher ratio would change.

Watjus, who also wanted public kindergarten cut back to a half-day program, claimed the school programs are putting local private preschools out of business.

“We’re not required to do this, and all the taxpayers do not benefit,” Watjus said of her preschool and kindergarten proposals. “I don’t think one little group should benefit.“

The school district is required to provide preschool education for all students age 3 and up who have an IEP (Special Education Individualized Education Program).

“We’re taking money away from businesses in town by having public kindergarten,” Watjus said. “We’re not helping all the taxpayers, just a select few.”

Board member Maldonado disagreed, saying she did not think the district programs were putting any private programs out of business. “My daughter is in kindergarten and I was thrilled that Raymond has full-day kindergarten,” she said. “She’s already started to read, and the transition to first grade will be that much easier. I work full time, and I need her in school. It would be going five steps backward to go to half-day. The kids would be getting less education. I care about the kids’ education.”

Watjus responded, “how many people benefit from the tax burden of full-time kindergarten if you look at the whole picture?”

“I don’t think the answer is to cut kindergarten to half time,” Maldonado said.

Welch noted that transportation costs were cut when full-time kindergarten was instituted.

“I think this is something that needs to be looked at,” Watjus reiterated. “I don’t have kids in kindergarten so it’s not affecting me.”

It was also noted that cutting kindergarten to half time would result in a loss of Keno revenue from the state of appropriately $130,000.

She also raised the issue of cutting the YEES (Youth Educational Employment Service) worker at the middle school, but Saulnier pointed out that position had already been removed by the school board from the proposed budget.

In discussing the proposed cuts, Maldonado said, “as much as I don’t want to cut the groundskeeper – it’s important for the school to look presentable and it shows a sense of pride – I would cut that $69,000.”

“I have a duty to the taxpayers to hold the line for them,” Merryman said. “Even if we come in flat with no increase at all, that would be a cut of $543,000. I think that would be fantastic.”

Merryman raised a concern about article 5, labeled Capital Reserve Funds, asking to raise and appropriate $333,076 to add to previously established Capital Reserve Funds in order to implement the School District’s 2019-2020 Capital Improvement Program. She termed it a “supplemental budget,” with money going in and coming out without any savings.

“That’s not the way the CIP should work,” she said. ”That increase would be born by the taxpayer, which is my concern….We’re making the taxpayers pay into this warrant article thinking it’s savings, but it’s not.”

Welch said that sum should be in the budget or in a regular warrant article, not as CIP.

He asked for cutting half a percent because of the loss of state revenue, and questioned whether the school district could live with that. Saulnier said he could not speak for the rest of the board but would bring that question to board members.

“I understand there’s a lot of mandated increases in the budget but we have to hold the line and be a little more conservative,” Welch said.

“I think we’ve put in plans to be more conservative later on,” Saulnier noted.

Merryman pointed out the Budget Committee is not in place for negotiation. “We are trying to do the best for the taxpayer and still create a good situation for the school system,” she said. “But it’s not negotiation. If you had to flat line the budget, how would you do it?”

The committee voted 3-2, with Merryman and Watjus opposed, to recommend the CIP article.

The committee voted unanimously to recommend article 6, which discontinues the textbook Capital Reserve Fund, as textbooks are now part of the budget. And it voted 4-1, with Welch opposed, on article 7, concerning professional brokerage and banking services.

On article 8, which places money in Capital Reserve Funds as savings from the year-end fund balance, the vote to recommend was 3-2, with Watjus and Merryman opposed.

Article 9, for water easement funds to the Capital Reserve Fund, was recommended unanimously.

Article 10, a non-binding article concerning the idea of tuitioning high school students to Pinkerton Academy and studying renovating the high school into an elementary school, the committee agreed to wait for Saulnier to discuss with the school district’s lawyer whether the committee is required to take a vote on recommending this article.

“If the Budget Committee does not recommend, it would send a very strong message,” Welch said. “I don’t think we should vote.” No vote was taken.

The committee meets next on Jan. 3.


Committee Hears of Legislature’s Default Budget Changes
By Leslie O’Donnell   8-20-18

State Rep. Carolyn Matthews, R-Raymond visited the Raymond Budget Committee on Aug. 14 to explain legislative changes made this year to the way a default budget must be computed.

Matthews, who serves on the Municipal and County Government Committee in the legislature and chaired the subcommittee on default budget bills, presented the changes in the law.

Matthews said that since 2004, when the default budget concept was defined by statute, 28 bills have been proposed to deal with it. Those bills, and two committees created to work on them, went nowhere, she said, adding that this year her committee looked at every piece of legislation proposed regarding default budgets.

“Even though we try to make everything clear to the voters, when they go to the polls, they look at the bottom line of the proposed budget and the bottom line of the default budget, and when they see the default is higher, they do not understand why, since it’s supposed to be a status quo budget. Given this situation, it was obvious the first step for the legislature was to increase transparency,” she said.

The committee also found problems with how to address contracts and staffing. “Our intent was to address transparency, voter education, and clarification of contracts and staffing,” she said.  She added that even though governing bodies have the sole authority to set the bottom line, they are empowered by statute to change that bottom line up until the ballots are to be printed if relevant new information comes forward.

“The default budget is supposed to be the budget that gets us through if the proposed budget fails, and maintains the status quo,” she explained.

Concerning transparency, the new legislation mandates that at the first budget hearing, the default budget has to be disclosed and presented for questions. Line items have to be available to voters as well.

“The point is that we provide enough accessible information that will minimize the number of voters who do not understand what is going on. Voters think mischief has taken place if the default is higher, so the governing bodies need to explain why that happens. That’s an important piece of public education.”

Matthews emphasized that a default budget bottom line can legitimately be higher than the previous year’s operating budget and higher than the current year’s proposed operating budget.

The new definition of a default budget is: “the amount of the same appropriations as contained in the operating budget authorized for the previous year, reduced and increased, as the case may be, by debt service, contracts, and other obligations previously incurred or mandated by law, and reduced by one-time expenditures contained in the operating budget and by salaries and benefits of positions that have been eliminated in the proposed budget.”

The salary statement is new this year.

If a job position is eliminated in the proposed budget, it cannot be included in the default budget. That, however, does not apply to positions being recruited or redefined. For example, if a School District is cutting an elementary school teacher but moving that position to the middle school, it is not considered an eliminated position.

A second change is in contracts, which now have to be “previously approved, in the amount so approved, by the legislative body in either the operating budget for the previous year or in a separate warrant article for a previous year.”

The final change highlighted requires the default budget to not only be “disclosed” at the first budget hearing, but “presented for questions and discussion.” That means “line item details for reductions and increases must be available for inspection by voters, and reductions and increases must identify the specific items that constitute a change by account code, and the reasons for the change.”

Committee member Rani Merryman said, “morals and scruples are the only things that make them return what (funding) is unused to the taxpayer,” but Matthews cautioned that Merryman was talking about the operating budget, while the changes discussed apply to the default budget.

“The proposed budget is the governing body’s best guess,” Matthews said. “My experience is the governing bodies are extraordinarily good at answering why they are doing what they do.”

In other business:

• The committee accepted the resignation of vice chair Richard Rousseau, who will be attending law school. Chair Carol Watjus said the Committee had given her authority to post open positions, and she had consulted with the New Hampshire Secretary of State’s office when she received Rousseau’s written resignation, and was told the best option was to email Committee members. “I didn’t act on my own, I did what the Secretary of State asked me to do,” she said, although she said her write-up for the open position was changed and posted incorrectly.

• The Committee interviewed and appointed Sharon Stolts, a new resident from out of state, to fill the vacancy. Selectman Wayne Welch swore her into office at the meeting. The committee then voted to elect Joshua Mann as vice chair.

• The Committee voted to have the School Board meet with the Budget Committee on Oct. 9 to present its final year-end figures.

• Watjus said she did not want department heads to have to make multiple presentations, and Mann said he did not want to have to tell residents to go back and watch previous meetings. Mann, who has previously served on the Committee, noted that the Committee did not ask Town department heads to come to Budget meetings; the Town Manager at the time directed them to attend.

• Watjus asked Mann to help set dates for budget meetings and snow dates. With Deliberative Sessions set for Feb. 2 and Feb. 9, he worked backward to establish possible meeting dates. Budgets must be delivered to the Budget Committee by Nov. 20, with the School District presenting its budget on Nov. 27 and the Town on Nov. 29. Watjus will prepare a budget calendar from the dates discussed.

 


 

 

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Develop an attitude of Gratitude !!
Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.

~ Melody Beattie ~