Croydon Has Contentious Ballot Issues

Valley News Staff Writer
Monday, March 12, 2018

Ballot voting on town and school officers runs from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 13, at Croydon Town Hall. The floor portion of Town Meeting will be held at 9 a.m. on Saturday, March 17, with the annual school district meeting to follow at 1 p.m. at Town Hall.

Croydon — The School Board will ask voters to approve a school budget that reflects an 8 percent decrease in spending to $1.24 million. But the article is likely to spark debate because the dip in spending is due in large part to one fewer teaching position at Croydon Village School for the 2018-19 school year.

School Board Vice Chairwoman Jody Underwood said the board voted unanimously at a prior meeting to go from three full-time teachers at the K-4 schoolhouse to two teachers. The board based its decision off enrollment numbers.

There are currently 27 students at Croydon Village School, and they are taught in multi-grade classrooms. Enrollment next year is projected at 28 students.

“It will be a hot topic,” Underwood said.

She said the board discussed staffing levels at a couple of School Board meetings, but no one attended to voice their opinions. Some people attended a later meeting, but the budget had already been approved by the board, she said.

School Board chairman James Peschke said the townspeople appear split on the topic. Some would rather spend the money to have three teachers, while others think decreasing the number of teachers is “overdue,” he said.

Discussion on schools and school spending in Croydon is nothing new.

Croydon and the state had been embroiled in a legal dispute over the school district’s efforts to send some students to a private school after they finish at Croydon Village School. Croydon prevailed, and in June, Gov. Chris Sununu signed legislation known as the “Croydon bill,” which allows some students to attend private school using public money. Croydon tuitions out students in grades 5 through 12.

Also during the school portion of the meeting, voters will decide whether to discontinue the school transportation capital reserve fund, and put the $94,000 that is in it into the general fund. The school used to have its own bus, but has since contracted with Butler’s Bus Service, so the account is no longer necessary, Underwood said.

Peschke’s seat is up on the School Board. He is seeking re-election, and is being challenged by Thomas Moore for the three-year seat.

Town Meeting

Town Meeting may also bring lively discussion.

The Selectboard has proposed a $463,000 operating budget, which represents a 10.3 percent increase, or $43,000, in spending over the prior year. To support the budget and all warrant articles, taxpayers would need to raise $351,000 in taxes, a 3.3 percent increase.

The only article on the warrant that is not recommended by the Selectboard is the $51,000 police department budget drafted by Croydon Police Chief Richard Lee.

Selectwoman Carol Marsh said Lee has suggested a “substantial” $7.57 per hour, or 43 percent, pay increase and that is why the board doesn’t support the article.

“In order to provide this type of recommendation to our taxpayers we would want to have in-depth accountability for the budget line, which today we feel we do not have,” Marsh said, adding that Lee’s job description and responsibilities haven’t changed. “We would expect our taxpayers to make an informed decision.”

In a telephone interview, Lee acknowledged that his budget reflects a sizable raise.

He said the raise would bring him in line with the new road agent who was hired in town, and that it makes sense based on his qualifications and experience.

He currently makes about $17.50 per hour.

The board has recommended a standard 2 percent wage increase for the chief and other hourly employees in town, with the exception of highway department staff because the board recently reviewed those positions.

Marsh acknowledged that some other town positions are due for pay-scale reviews.

The Selectboard and the chief may also butt heads on an OHRV ordinance that is on the warrant, which would allow off-road vehicles to travel on town roads between May 23 and Nov. 3. Drivers must follow the rules of the road, including “the normal traffic patterns, speed limits and other regulations,” the ordinance that was drafted by the town’s attorney states.

But Lee said the proposed ordinance “isn’t enforceable” because it is vague, so he has proposed his own draft ordinance. His outlines a maximum speed limit and touches on topics that he said could undermine town functions, among many other things.

“If you are going to have an ordinance, it has got to be enforceable. I am the one who would have to take these people to court,” Lee said, adding that he is “100 percent neutral” on whether the town adopts an OHRV ordinance. “But there is no teeth to theirs.”

However, Marsh said the town’s proposed OHRV ordinance is drafted in accordance with state law and “is done in order to keep it simple and keep it so that it is not confusing.” The OHRV article is non-binding.

Voters also will be asked to put money into three capital reserve funds: $25,000 into highway equipment, $4,000 into the town revaluation and $33,000 for bridges.

In addition, the town seeks to replace the highway garage roof. The $17,500 project would be funded from interest earned on the Henry J. Sawyer Memorial Fund and the Ruger Memorial Fund.

The town also will ask for approval to start repairs on a portion of Pine Hill Road from the intersection of Indian Point Road to the entrance of the public beach, according to the warrant.

Of the $45,000 project, $39,000 is slated to come from a highway block grant, with the remaining $6,000 coming from taxation.

The current total tax rate in Croydon is $15.42 per $1,000 of assessed value, or about $3,855 annually on a $250,000 home. (The current municipal rate is $3.99, the county rate is $2.75, the local education rate is $6.45 and the state education rate is $2.23.)

There are two contested races on the ballot.

Three people are vying for a seat on the Selectboard that is currently held by James Harding, who is not seeking re-election. Gary Quimby, Joseph Marko and Cathy Peschke will square off for the three-year seat.

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.