Croydon cuts money for school improvements, increases road budget

By PATRICK O’GRADY

Valley News Correspondent

Published: 03-17-2024 7:43 PM

CROYDON — In town and school meetings on Saturday, voters approved all warrant articles, but cut an appropriation of $100,000 for a capital reserve fund for school improvements to $5,000.

The reduced amount passed after more than an hour of debate in the Croydon fire station with about 100 residents in attendance. Turnout at both Saturday meetings was about 105, or 17%, of the town’s 631 registered voters.

Many said they were concerned with the additional 77 cents on the tax rate for the $100,000 appropriation because the approved budget is projected to increase the school tax rate 46%, or $2.82 per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

“This number scares me,” Selectboard Chairwoman Amie Freak said about the overall tax rate impact of $3.59 per $1,000 if both articles had passed as proposed.

The $1.8 million budget is up 8%, or $134,000. Mostly because of a 100% increase in special education expenses, the school district projects it will have about $200,000 less in the year-ending surplus that it relies on as non-tax revenue. Last year the fund balance was about $386,000, while the projection for the current year is $168,000. The result is an increase in the amount to be raised by taxes of $345,000, or 46%.

Regarding the capital reserve fund, the School Board said the village school is in need of improvements and the proposed $100,000 appropriation was to be the first step toward putting away money for the work.

School Board Chairman Aaron McKeon, who lost his seat to Amanda Leslie in Tuesday’s ballot voting, said the completed strategic plan for the Croydon Village School, known as “Lil Red,” proposes three facilities options. The first, estimated at $515,000, would keep grades K-4 at the school and replace an aging modular building, while the second at $250,000 would remove the modular building, upgrade Lil Red and make the school pre-K-K, while grades 1-12 would have school choice. The final option, estimated at $3.1 million, would remove the module and expand the school for grades pre-K-4.

McKeon said they have scheduled public forums to weigh input from residents with a goal of a special meeting and vote on a decision in September.

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“Regardless of the option chosen, they will all bear some costs,” McKeon said. “We want to establish a capital to reserve fund now so we can start setting aside money.”

Residents were reluctant to approve any funding until the town decides which way it wants to go with the school.

“Why not wait until we know what the public wants?” resident Jim Peschke said. “It is too much and not necessary.”

Many of the comments came back to the additional tax increase on top of the budget as a reason to oppose the article.

“They have been raised enough this year,” Kimberly McKinney said about the school taxes.

Board member Angie Beaulieu recommended the article be reduced to $5,000, which will come from fund balance, and it passed unanimously.

Town Meeting

Earlier in the day at town hall, about 100 residents approved all 16 warrant articles in two and a half hours. The only change was an additional $20,000 in the town budget, which brought it to $715,000.

The money will be used for dirt road maintenance.

“All the roads are a mess,” said Beaulieu, who made the motion to add the money.

Budget committee member Jim Morgan said they did not put more money in for road maintenance because there is money in the town’s fund balance for emergencies. Instead of increasing taxes this year, Morgan said the town needs to develop a road plan next year.

The budget passed by voice vote. Paving of Cash Street for $434,000 was approved by ballot vote 94-9. Two other articles, one to replace Bouldervale Road Bridge and put a topcoat on Croydon Brook Road, which was destroyed in flooding last summer and had to be repaved, were both approved unanimously.

An article to give the fire department $20,000 to help with firefighters’ pay passed, 78-24.

A Planning Board request to authorize the board to review and approve or disapprove site plans and to adopt site plan regulations was approved after some discussion.

Morgan, who is also on the Planning Board, said currently there is nothing on the books to stop a large developer from buying a tract of land and putting up 40 homes.

“Everything that is being done here is to protect the community,” Morgan said. “It gives the Planning Board the power to craft ordinances to protect the town from mass development.”

Any proposed ordinance would need voter approval.

Also approved were a backhoe leas e, $15,000 to update the master plan, last done in 1981; upgrades to the town clerk’s equipment; $25,000 to the bridges capital reserve fund; $20,000 for cemetery repair and maintenance; $15,000 for revaluation fund, and $25,000 for the town vehicle capital reserve fund.

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