P/cloudy
50°
P/cloudy
Hi 59° | Lo 42°

Royalton Voters OK Smaller School Budget, but Taxes Will Rise

South Royalton — With nary a question about specifics, voters Monday night approved the $6 million school budget on a 159-22 vote during the annual school district meeting at South Royalton High School.

The $6,023,335 in spending represents a drop of more than $41,000, or 0.68 percent, from the budget for the current school year.

School Board members attributed the declining budget to dips in health insurance costs, tuition to vocational schools and special education costs.

They also made a series of other small cuts and retained the majority of cuts that were made to the budget last summer, when voters held a special meeting to slash about $137,000 from the budget that had been approved during Town Meeting 2013.

But like several towns in the state, residents will still likely grapple with an increase in taxes, despite the decreased budget.

The current rate of $1.45 per $100 of assessed value is expected to rise to an estimated $1.51, as the proposed state homestead rate is estimated to rise by 7 cents per $100 of valuation. The final tax rate will be determined when the state finalizes that number.

School Board member Geo Honigford addressed the dichotomy in a budget presentation before the vote.

“There’s a perception that school budgets are increasing dramatically. They’re not,” he said. “Are your taxes increasing dramatically? They are, I’m not going to lie to you. There’s kind of a disconnect between the amount we need to operate our schools and the amount we’re getting taxed.”

The state uses a complicated formula to determine the school tax rate, but the simple explanation, Honigford said, is the state’s “great reliance” on the property tax. As the Grand List has decreased statewide, the tax rate needs to increase just to raise the same amount of money.

“It’s really hitting us, it hits me (and other school board members),” he said.

Resident Sandy Conrad, who led the efforts to amend last year’s budget in favor of a level-funded budget from the prior fiscal year, asked whether residents are supposed to look to school boards or state legislators when taxes are rising too high.

Honigford responded that the issue seems to be “in both places,” as the state’s funding method needs some corrections while school boards in other parts of the state may need to “sharpen their pencils.”

Conrad added later that it “isn’t that we don’t want the best for our children ... but that comes at a cost, and we need to find a balance that makes us able to afford those luxuries.”

Joshua “Bushrod” Powers countered that the school system is “not an expense, it’s an investment,” and resident Matthew Thornton spoke to the high school’s success in a state ranking system in recent years.

“Hopefully, last year didn’t change anything,” he said.

After some discussion, voters also approved an article that would allow up to $50,000 in surplus funds at the end of the year to be added to the building reserve fund, which currently has $80,000.

Royalton Town Meeting will be held today at 10 a.m. in the South Royalton High School auditorium to act on warning articles. Voting by Australian ballot will be held from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. to elect town and school officers and decide on funding for a new town office building.

Maggie Cassidy can be reached at mcassidy@vnews.com or 603-727-3220.