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Grantham Spending Plan Up 11 Percent



Valley News Staff Writer
Friday, March 03, 2017

The Grantham School District meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 7, at the Grantham Village School. Town Meeting will be held at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, March 14, at Grantham Town Hall.

Grantham — Money for new police and highway department vehicles along with easing the tax burden for seniors and veterans are among the articles that Grantham voters will weigh at Town Meeting.

The Selectboard’s request for funds to cover vehicles, equipment repairs and building maintenance are factors behind a proposed 11 percent increase in the town’s total municipal and highway budget to $3.8 million, or about $381,000 more than voters approved for spending last year.

But the proposed budget factors out to a smaller 3.2 percent increase in the amount that needs to be covered through property taxes because 40 percent of the budget will be funded through revenue sources such as vehicle permitting fees and surplus funds.

This year, Grantham voters will be asked to approve three separate articles relating to easing the property tax burden for eligible residents: the first would be a second attempt to exempt property owners from taxes in an amount equal to the value of qualifying wood heating systems (the measure was defeated last year); the second would introduce a $500 tax property credit for qualifying veterans; and the third would knock between $44,000 and $82,500 off the property assessment of seniors, the amount depending on age, income and assets.

Grantham already allows for progressive tax exemptions for senior residents, but the article increases those exemptions by $4,000 on the low end, from the current $40,000 to $44,000, and $7,500 on the high end, from $75,000 to $82,500, depending on age, said Town Administrator Melissa White. She added the introduction of the exemption for veterans followed the state’s passage of enabling legislation last summer.

The Selectboard is also requesting $42,000 for the lease or purchase of a new 2017 AWD Dodge Charger police cruiser as the primary vehicle and to convert its existing 2014 Dodge Charger as an alternate vehicle, in addition to seeking $60,000 for the lease or purchase of a 1-ton truck with a plow and sander for the highway department.

Voters also will decide whether to approve a zoning amendment that allows for the permitting of “attached dwelling units” — sometimes called an “in-law apartment” — to single-family homes. The Planning Board, which favors the change, said the “accessory dwelling unit” would “offer the opportunity for low-cost rental housing” that has been mandated by state statute.

White said the town’s operating budget is proposed to increase $216,000 — the rise largely attributable to a request for funding a full-time maintenance position, higher benefit costs and $10,000 requested for the police department to revamp its records filing and storage system.

Of the $3.8 million budget, $2.4 million would be raised through taxes, an increase of $75,000, which White estimated would lead to an additional 15 cents on the tax rate — $37.50 on a home assessed at $250,000.

The current town portion of the tax rate is $4.73 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, or about $1,183 on a $250,000 home, which would bring the new proposed total to about $1,220 annually.

There is one three-year Selectboard seat open on the three-member board.

Selectboard member Warren Kimball is putting himself forward again as a candidate for another term.

On the school side, the budget for the 207-student Grantham Village School is proposed to rise almost 3 percent to about $9 million, of which $6.9 million is to be raised through taxes.

That would result in a 6.2 percent higher tax rate of $17.18 per $1,000 of assessed valuation and would increase the tax bill on a property valued at $250,000 by about $250.

The Grantham School District managed to hold most non-health care line items in the budget down this year to modest increases, which is reflected in the overall budget, said Jacqueline Guillette, superintendent of schools. Among the biggest jumps are funds directed toward special education, which rose $148,000, or 105 percent, from last year.

Special education programs are costly, she noted, and it doesn’t take many to double the cost.

“We have two students now, rather than one, who are in outplacement,” Guillette said.

The single largest line item, tuition for Grantham students at Lebanon High School, is down about 3 percent to $2 million.

The second largest line item, tuition for students to middle school, is up 8.9 percent to $1.15 million.

The third largest item, teacher wages, is up about 4 percent to $1.14 million. Health care costs are budgeted to increase 14.5 percent to $725,400.

With no extraordinary spending items in the budget, Guillette termed it “a plain vanilla year,” which will also be the superintendent’s last after 42 years in education — including 10 years as principal of Lebanon Middle School — because she is retiring in June.

“I’m not celebrating,” Guillette demurred. “I’m noting.”

John Lippman can be reached at jlippman@vnews.com.

Correction

If Grantham residents approve the proposed school budget, it would result in a school tax rate of $17.18 per $1,000 of assessed property value and would increase the tax bill on a property valued at $250,000 by about $250. An earlier version miscalculated the impact of the tax rate increase.