Wilton Selectman Fish: Deficit is a comedy of errors

WILTON – The school district budget deficit, whether caused by overspending or underbudgeting, will cause a problem for taxpayers and town officials.

The tax rate will go up and the town will have a year-end cash flow problem because tax bills will go out later than usual. The tax rate cannot be set until after a special school district meeting on Saturday.

At that meeting, Wilton and Lyndeborough voters will decide if $184,811 in state funds can be used to offset the deficit.

On Monday, School Superintendent Bryan Lane met with the Select Board to discuss the problem. He said he was aware of the tax bill problem and said his office would have “all of the paperwork prepared for the (state Department of Revenue Administration) prior to the meeting so that everything required will be in the hands on the DRA on Tuesday morning,” Dec. 12. He said they had promised “a quick turnaround.”

Board Chairman Kermit Williams said “we like to set the tax rate as close to Oct. 1 as possible” since people are given 30 days in which to pay. Early payment of bills is a problem since most people with mortgages pay taxes through their banks.

Selectman Matt Fish took exception to Lane’s remarks.

“The community is absolutely outraged,” he said when Lane didn’t explain the deficit. “It’s a comedy of errors. How could you end up in a situation like this? I’m concerned about management – it is incompetent at best. How could you make such errors?”

Lane said the business administrator had resigned last March and they had an interim until fall when the errors were discovered by new administrator Lizabeth Butler.

He reminded the board that school budgets are prepared “well in advance” (because the school fiscal year begins July 1). “$142,000 in special education costs occurred after the budget was adopted.” Staff changes and related changes in health coverage added another $57,000. “(0 percent of the deficit occurred after the budget was adopted. The School board is “looking into everything. An audit is coming.”

He added, “There were mistakes made. No doubt about it. Things came up beyond my control.”

Williams asked why there was nothing in the budget “in anticipation.”

Lane said the district “historically doesn’t do that.”

Select Board member Kellie-Sue Boissonnault asked what was being done to fix the budget. “A vote on Saturday will fix this year’s. What are you doing to cut the budget (for next year?) You can’t say you know the taxes are high, but you need more money.”

She asked about combining some honors classes that have only a few students.

Lane said advanced placement courses are specific and in conjunction with the community college for credit “and you can’t combine them. He also mentioned a special education program that keeps students in district at a savings of about $30,000 per student. The full-time kindergarten program required some extra staff. “This year there will be no budget transfers to keep a better watch on spending.”

Asked what would happen if the voters don’t approve the use of state money, Lane said, “the towns will get a bill. We asked our principals to go through their budgets and we are still about $45,000 short.” If the vote is “yes,” the money will go into specific lines and any left over will be returned to the towns.”

Transparency was also discussed. Budget committee Member Lisa Post said that committee “was

not informed that Wilton had been asked to make an extra payment earlier this fall.”

Fish said, “You need to say exactly what happened. You can’t say it was someone not here any more.”

Williams added, “It isn’t the role of the select board to manage the school. Parents should attend board meetings.”

Boissonnault said, “We’ve heard rumors, and we hope they are only rumors, that next year’s budget will be up a million dollars. Taxpayers can’t afford that.”

Lane said money “won’t be spend unless absolutely necessary.”

The special school district meeting will be held in the high school cafeteria beginning at 9 a.m.