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Bethel Budget Could Go Up

School Tax Rate Set to Decrease

Bethel Town Meeting is on March 4 at 10 a.m. The annual school meeting is on March 4 at 7 p.m. Both meetings take place in Town Hall.

Bethel — For the last two years, Town Meeting has been tumultuous here, with voters turning out incumbent selectmen in consecutive years.

This year, there are no longstanding leaders left to remove. Widely respected Selectman Joe DeFreitas died in September (the new town report is dedicated to him), and longtime Town Manager Delbert Cloud has retired.

“I think it would be foolish of me to try to predict” how the March 4 meeting will proceed, said Selectman Bill Hall. But “I think last year’s Town Meeting might have been the peak.”

This year, voters will be asked to approve a town budget that carries modest increases in spending and taxation and a school budget that raises spending but results in a slightly lower tax rate, and to elect a new Selectboard member and two School Board members.

On the town side, a budget of a little more than $1.8 million, a figure that includes all of the spending items on the warning, is about $110,000 higher than the current fiscal year’s. The budget includes more money for routine expenses such as road repair and sand, wages, Social Security and worker’s compensation insurance. In most instances, the higher budgeted amounts are meant to bring the town’s books in line with expenses from previous years, Hall said.

The budget also includes a line item for cumulative deficit totaling $50,000, costs incurred in addressing flooding from Tropical Storm Irene in 2012 and in repairing damaged roads from a previous flood, Hall said.

In addition, voters will be asked to put $12,000 into a Recreation Facilities Fund. The town has studied its rec facilities, which include a pool, tennis courts and playing fields, and is now putting money away to improve them, Hall said. Voters approved a $10,000 appropriation last year.

Much of the spending increase would be offset by higher revenues, particularly in transportation funds. The increase in the amount to be raised by taxes is around $42,000, an amount that Hall estimated would add no more than 2 cents to the tax rate, which is currently stands at 75 cents per $100 of assessed value.

The school tax rate is expected to decline by 2 cents, to $1.47 per $100, thanks primarily to increases in enrollment and tuition students, said Kevin Dirth, principal at Bethel’s K-12 school. Bethel taxpayers also will benefit from a slight increase in the town’s common level of appraisal, which measures a town’s property assessments against sale prices to determine its fair share of statewide property taxes.

The cap on taxes for people who pay school taxes based on income would remain the same, at 3.05 percent of household income. Households with incomes of $90,000 or less are eligible.

Spending on regular instruction is lower in the proposed budget, thanks to the retirement of four senior teachers at the end of the current school year. But spending overall would rise by 5 percent, driven partly by increases in funding for guidance and technology.

The school has a new guidance counselor for the elementary grades who started this year, Dirth said, and the funding increase supports her work. The technology funding will continue the school’s program of providing a laptop computer for every child, and phasing out desktop computers, and an increase in the cost of contracted services for instructional technology.

The school district’s tax burden is declining in part because its enrollment has increased. “We’ve gone from 275 to 313 in the last few years,” Dirth said. That’s included more tuition students from surrounding school choice towns.

Bethel elects its officials from the meeting floor. Virginia Cole-Levesque and David Eddy Jr. are up for reelection to the School Board. Lisa Hill, who was appointed to fill the remainder of DeFreitas’ term, is up for reelection to the Selectboard.

Alex Hanson can be reached at ahanson@vnews.com or 603-727-3219.