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Sunapee Budget Could Rise Over 7%, School Spending Also Slated to Rise

Voting on the Sunapee Town and School warrant is Tuesday, March 11, at the Sherburne Gymnasium from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Sunapee — On Town Meeting Day, residents will decide the fate of 35 articles on the town warrant, including the budget and proposed zoning changes, and a contested race for Selectboard, and another seven articles on the school warrant.

The proposed town budget of $6.5 million represents an increase of about $470,000 or more than 7.2 percent from this year. There is another $1.4 million in proposed spending under 14 separate warrant articles of which $433,000 would be raised from taxes and the balance taken from existing capital reserve funds. These include the purchase of equipment for the fire and highway departments.

Town Manager Donna Nashawaty said some of the items that increased were $100,000 in road paving, which voters approved last year as part of a warrant article for the paving program; $41,000 in debt service for the new library and Perkins Pond sewer project; and $71,000 for a point system to compensate firefighters, also approved last year.

“Then there are the normal increases every year such as (payments to) the New Hampshire retirement system, health insurance, fuel and electricity and asphalt,” Nashawaty said, adding that the cost of the contracts the town has for dispatching and ambulance service also went up.

Based on the current grand list, if the budget and all separate warrant articles are approved, the town tax rate would increase 28 cents to $3.42 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation. The increase would add $112 in taxes to a property assessed at $400,000.

Nashawaty said town officials anticipate an increase in the grand list this year which would mean a reduction in the tax rate increase when the rate is set in October.

Article 34 asks voters to adopt a “community revitalization tax relief” incentive under state law.

“It is a tool the community can use to help spark development in the village-commercial zones (around the harbor and in Georges Mills),” Nashawaty said.

If approved, the town would have the option of deferring property taxes from one to five years on the added value of a property that was redeveloped, such as the old town hall.

The Selectboard is also looking for authority to spend money from the dirt road capital reserve fund after holding a public hearing rather than asking for voter approval at Town Meeting.

Nashawaty said the money has never been successfully spent because voters misunderstand its use.

“If this passes, the public will still be involved,” Nashawaty said. “It will be easier to hold a public hearing and invite residents whose road will be paved to comment, rather than a vote.”

There is also a slew of zoning amendments being proposed that will alter wording with the goal of clarifying and better defining the intent of each regulation.

Selectboard Race

First-term incumbent Sue Gottling is being challenged by small business owner John Augustine for a seat on the Selectboard.

“I am running for Sunapee Selectboard because I believe I have made positive contributions to the town,” said Gottling, a Democratic state representative in the New Hampshire House.

She said her presence on the board has helped establish strong working relationships with residents and that cooperation was evident in projects such as the Perkins Pond sewer extension, the building of a new library, and the conservation of Wendell Marsh North.

Gottling, who is retired, noted that the board is open to other opinions and said it accepted two proposals from the Budget Advisory Committee in the proposed budget to do a lease/purchase instead og an outright appropriation for a new grader and use money from the hydro fund to reduce the debt on a loan for safety services building, which houses the police and fire departments and emergency medical services.

Looking ahead, Gottling wants the board to focus on road maintenance and repair, work on Wendell Marsh South, and decide the future of Harbor House Livery building, formerly known as Old Town Hall, and the Abbott Library.

“I believe I have been effective in maintaining a spirit of fairness and balance between Sunapee citizens and their board,” she said.

Augustine owns Dexter’s Inn, Trails and Restaurant in town and also serves on the Budget Advisory Committee. He said overspending that has led to tax increases is the biggest issue he wants to tackle if elected.

Augustine said that if voters approve the proposed spending for next year, the tax rate will have increased 18 percent in three years and the budget, 14.5 percent.

“I have ideas that can be put into place on day one to reduce spending and increase non-tax revenue,” Augustine said. “I have the strength to say ‘no’ or ‘not now,’ and I have the ability to differentiate between ‘wants’ and ‘needs.’ ”

Among Augustine’s priorities if elected would a line-by-line budget review based on actual spending; revision of the employee compensation system to keep raises no greater than the rate of inflation; reducing balances in capital reserve funds that he believes are “over-funded; charge non-residents for use of town facilities and increase fees and permits and develop a plan to lease or sell vacant municipal buildings and let residents vote on the plan.

“Regarding non-tax revenue sources, the burden on the taxpayer would be lightened if the selectmen charged non-residents for use of town facilities and adjusted fees to be in line with neighboring towns,” Augustine said.

Augustine also wants to develop a plan to sell or lease the old Town Hall and soon-to-be vacant Abbott Library to bring in immediate revenue and then get them back on the tax rolls.

School Warrant

Special education costs for out-of-district tuition students are driving a roughly $300,000 increase in the proposed $11.1 million school budget for the next fiscal year.

“We have student needs that have to be served outside the district, and there were some students we expected to leave the district but didn’t,” SAU 85 Superintendent Russell Holden said.

Also part of the increase is the second year of a two-year teachers’ contract for $114,000, and $37,000 to pay for higher health insurance and retirement system costs.

The school district is asking for total appropriations next year of $11.2 million. That figure includes the budget, $25,000 each for the special education trust fund elementary school maintenance capital reserve fund and $98,000 to replace a section of the roof at the high school.

The budget carries a tax rate impact of 56 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

Holden said school officials took some steps to ease the tax rate impact.

These include taking $150,000 from $300,000 in the special education trust fund to cover those higher out-of-district tuition costs, and delaying the purchase of a new bus for $74,000. “Reconfiguring” personnel in the SAU office and high school trimmed another $76,000 from the proposed budget, Holden said.

“Based on the overages in special education, we feel we can withstand another year without buying a bus,” Holden said.

If voters support both the proposed budget and the other spending on the school warrant, the projected tax rate impact of 69 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation would add $276 in school taxes to a home assessed at $400,000. The current school tax rate, local and state combined, is $8.42.

Incumbent School Board member Shaun Carroll Jr., and Kimberly Denney are running uncontested.

The default budget for the town is $6.4 million and would add an estimated 21 cents to the town tax rate. The default budget for the school is $15,000 less than the proposed budget with the same tax rate impact

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