Haverhill Voters to Determine School Consolidation Effort

Valley News Staff Writer
Monday, March 05, 2018

Floor voting on school consolidation and other business of the Haverhill Cooperative School District will take place starting 9 a.m. Saturday, March 10, at the Haverhill Cooperative Middle School. Town Meeting ballot voting on Selectboard candidates will be 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Tuesday, March 13, at James Morrill Municipal Building. Floor voting on town business including the budget will take place starting at 9 a.m. Saturday, March 17, in the middle school.

Haverhill — Town Meeting voters will decide on a $7.25 million proposal to consolidate Woodsville Elementary School into the Haverhill Cooperative Middle School, among other items of business for both the district and the town.

Because the issues fac ing the Haverhill Cooperative School District are so impactful, officials decided to hold the floor meetings for  the town and school district on consecutive Saturdays, rather than combining them into a single day.

In addition to the consolidation proposal, school district voters will weigh in on a $3.7 million bond to renovate the Woodsville High School campus, and a $14.1 million district budget.

The consolidation proposal would pay for an addition and upgrades to the Haverhill Cooperative Middle School that would allow it to serve as a single entity that would teach students from pre-K to eighth grade.

The consolidation was recommended by the School Board, which relied on its facilities committee to explore several alternative options before settling on the plan, which supporters say is the best way to address declining enrollment figures — the number of students declined to 675 in 2017 from 775 in 2012.

The $3.7 million renovation bond would be for the Woodsville High School campus, which consists of three buildings. It would address noncompliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and fire safety codes by adding two elevators to the campus. It also would add a new vestibule to Woodsville High, which was built in 1896, replace the heating system and upgrade the locker rooms. In addition, the bond would finance the demolition of the King Street School building and replace it with a new structure, which would be paid for via a leasing arrangement with the King Street School.

The two bond articles need a two-thirds ballot vote to pass.

The school district budget, which needs only a majority vote to pass, is down $239,000 from the current school year’s.

“However,” said Kathryn Ducharme, business administrator for SAU 23, “due to lost revenue (from the state), the tax rate will increase.”

When a $46,000 cost to support a negotiated support staff contract is factored in, the proposed budget would increase the education property tax rate from $21.99 to $22.80 per $1,000 of assessed property value, a 3.66 percent increase that would be enough to bump the bill of a $250,000 home by $201, to $5,699.

On the town side, the proposed municipal budget is $5.35 million, up $722,000, or 15.5 percent, from the current year’s budget of $4.63 million, but Town Manager Jo Lacaillade said the actual impact on taxpayers will be far less, because the town expects to receive $656,000 in revenues from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the state toward a road project on Clark Pond Bridge.

Other drivers of the budget include a reconstruction project for Lily Pond Road, which Lacaillade called “probably the worst road in town.” She said the total budget for the project is $330,000, and that the town plans to do as much work as the funding will cover.

Lacaillade said the impact of the budget on the tax rate, currently $7.32 per $1,000 of assessed property value, cannot be determined, in part because of a pending auction on a large number of town-owned properties, scheduled for June 23.

“We took roughly 50 properties for nonpayment of taxes,” Lacaillade said. “That will help offset, hopefully, most of the increases.”

The glut of foreclosures happened after last year’s Town Meeting, at which Lacaillade said voters made it clear they wanted the town to get tough on those who were delinquent on their taxes. Some of the properties had not paid taxes in years, according to Lacaillade.

One warrant article that already has sparked spirited debate within the community is a petitioned article to sell Powder House Hill, a 5-acre piece of undeveloped land that has served as a burial ground, and was the site of a state militia granite powder magazine that was guarded during the War of 1812. Both the bodies and the stone slabs that made up the structure were moved to the cemetery on nearby Ladd Street around 1847.

The Haverhill Historical Society has been concerned about the prospect of putting the historic property on the auction block, while taxpayers have expressed concern about the idea of spending town resources on the property.

The Haverhill Heritage Commission and the Haverhill Historical Society would like to preserve the property in the short term, and consider turning it into a park or other resource in the long term.

“There’s many people on both sides of this issue. I think it’s good that the town is going to decide,” Lacaillade said. “I understand both sides. Parks cost money, but again, there’s the historic nature of that property (to consider).”

Michael Bonanno, who is seeking re-election to the Selectboard, is facing a challenge from Darwin Clogston, a cabinetry and woodworking business owner who served a one-year stint on the Selectboard beginning in 2016.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at mhonghet@vnews.com or 603-727-3211.