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Cutbacks Help Newport Hold Down Town Budget

Town Meeting vote and the revote on the school district ballot is Tuesday, May 14 from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Newport Opera House.

Newport — In addition to voting on the town budget of $8.7 million, a new ambulance, and $250,000 for road repairs, voters next Tuesday will also be voting a second time on the school district ballot.

A Superior Court judge ordered the school district to hold a second vote on articles 3-10 because the school district failed to make the amended warrant available a week before the initial March 12 vote, as required under state law. There are also two school ballot errors that had to be corrected.

Between the town and school ballots, there are a total of 18 articles.

The town operating budget represents a spending increase of about $90,000 or 1 percent from the current year’s spending.

“The biggest increase is for the state retirement costs and then health insurance,” Town Manager Paul Brown said.

Brown said there were personnel cutbacks to hold down the budget increase.

The budget, if approved, would knock 28 cents off the town tax rate but that decrease would be canceled by an increase of 67 cents under three separate warrant articles. The default budget is about $25,000 less than the proposed budget and would carry the same tax rate decrease.

Article 8 asks voters to approve $250,000 for repairs on 14 different paved roads, which would add 60 cents to the tax rate.

“When I was given direction to level fund the budget, I included $100,000 for gravel roads,” Brown said. “But the board knows we have issues with paved roads so they wanted to give voters the opportunity to vote on those repairs.”

Article 4 is for a $161,000 ambulance.

“It would replace a 2002 ambulance with more than 100,000 miles on it,” Brown said. “We have three (ambulances) and we try to replace one every four years.”

The purchase would be financed with $56,424 in grants and/or donations, $26,788 in taxes and $78,000 in borrowing over three years. If approved with the required 60 percent majority, it would add 6 cents to next year’s tax rate.

The third article with a tax rate impact — 1 cent — is Article 12 for $5,000 for the Community Alliance of Human Services. The money is broken down among three uses: $2,000 for public transportation services, $2,000 for the volunteer driver program and $1,000 for the family services program.

According to the Alliance, there were 11,700 one-way rides provided by the public transportation to town residents and 700 residents were served last year in the volunteer driver program. Fifteen families were helped in the family services program.

Brown projects the town tax rate to increase 39 cents to $11.65 per $1,000 of assessed valuation if all spending with a tax rate impact is approved. The increase would add $78 in town taxes to a $200,000 property.

Article 9 seeks $82,000 for interior and exterior town hall (opera house) repairs with the money coming from the Town Hall improvements fund.

Low turnout at the annual deliberative session where voters can debate and amend articles prompted a call for a return to the traditional town meeting format where articles are discussed and voted on from the floor. Article 7 asks voters to end the official ballot format, in effect since 2008. A 60 percent majority is required for the change.

Articles 3 and 4 relate to zoning with the first one amending the building code by rescinding the one adopted by the town in 1984 and replacing it with the state building code, which already applies to Newport under state law. Article 4 would amend the zoning ordinance to allow an accessory apartment on a lot to be attached to either the main building or to a detached accessory building.

Incumbent Selectboard members Jeff Kessler and Gary Nichols are running unopposed for three-year terms.

The school ballot has a $17.8 million budget with a $18.16 million default budget and one-year contracts for teachers raises ($65,639) and support staff raises ($29,353). In March, voters passed the three spending proposals by comfortable margins.

Because of an estimated 16-cent drop in the state education tax, the overall school tax rate is projected to fall 8 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation if all spending is approved.

Article 8 and 9 would place $100,000 each from any budget surplus at the end of the June 30 fiscal year into reserve funds for school renovation and unanticipated special education expenses. Article 7 would add $1 to the transportation reserve fund. On the March 12 ballot, the amounts in articles 7 and 8 were reversed.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at ogrady56@yahoo.com.