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Board to Pass Refund to Taxpayers

Claremont Uses Money To Offset School Rate

Claremont — The School Board voted 5-1 to use a nearly $325,000 refund in insurance overpayments toward offsetting the tax rate increase in the proposed 2014-15 budget.

The decision made Wednesday night means the estimated property tax rate increase for next year’s $31.1 million budget would be $1.27 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. That would add $190 to the annual school tax bill on a property assessed at $150,000.

The refund was for health insurance premiums made by the district and teachers paid to the Local Government Center, an insurance provider for municipalities, in 2010. The center has since reorganized and goes by a new name.

The board discussion centered around two options: Spend the money in 2014-15 or hold it in reserve for the Stevens High School renovation project.

Board members Heather Irish and Bob Picard were the most vocal in support of using the money to reduce taxes. David Putnam, who voted no, wanted the money held in reserve in case the cost of rebuilding the Stevens auditorium stage goes over budget.

Irish said adding the money to the $12.6 million renovation project that voters approved last March violates what the board promised.

“We went to the taxpayers and told them that’s all we will need and we promised to stick with that budget,” said Irish, calling the potential 40 cent reduction in the estimated tax rate increase for next year’s budget “significant to a lot of people.”

Picard, who made the motion to return the money to the taxpayers, agreed with Irish.

“All of it should go back to the taxpayers,” he said.

Putnam, chairman of the renovation committee, said any amount not needed for the stage would have been returned to taxpayers.

The cost for a new stage, not part of the original cost calculations, won’t be known for a few weeks. Banwell Architects needs to complete a design and refer it to construction management firm Trumbull-Nelson for pricing.

Originally, $100,000 was budgeted to demolish the old stage and replace it with a three-inch platform. The platform proposal was scrapped when residents objected.

At one point it appeared the board would delay a vote until the stage costs were known, but Irish said it was important to bring a solid tax rate estimate to the voters at next week’s deliberative session on the school warrant.

“I want to be able to tell taxpayers this is how it (the budget) is going to affect the tax rate,” Irish said.

Putnam said all of the money for the Stevens project has been allocated except for about $480,000 in contingency and Trumbull-Nelson does not want to commit any of that reserve money now.

“They are not sure what they will uncover in the next year and a half,” Putnam said, adding that the district’s renovation committee wants to be sure a new stage and new windows for the entire school are part of the project.

The School Board held a public hearing prior to the vote on the insurance refund money.

Paul LaCasse said it should be given back to the taxpayers, while Richard Madigan favored either returning it to the taxpayers or putting it in a reserve account for unanticipated expenses.

Bob Stringer, representing Stevens alumni, favored holding it in reserve for the stage.

Also voting for the motion was Brian Rapp, John Napsey and Chairman Richard Seaman. Board member Kristin Kenniston was absent.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.