, Derry, New Hampshire

February 13, 2013

Derry senator disappointed with voter turnout

Becoming a city may bring budgets in line

By Julie Huss

---- — DERRY — A local lawmaker is angry only a few voters turned out recently and added nearly a million dollars to an already strapped school budget.

Sen. Jim Rausch, R-Derry, told town councilors last week he was upset that only a handful of Derry voters made the decision to amend next year’s budget by $800,000 at the deliberative session Feb. 2.

He said maybe Derry should consider becoming a city to get budgets under control.

Under Derry’s existing town government structure, the Town Council makes the spending decisions. But for school district expenses, voters decide at the polls whether to approve the annual budget and bonds.

The school meeting attracted just 83 of the town’s more than 17,700 voters to hear details of next year’s school budget, now proposed at $81.9 million. That small percentage of voters — less than one-half of 1 percent —added $800,000 to the budget proposal.

“I’m very upset with the process,” Rausch said. “I’m almost positive our tax rate will be the highest in the state.”

Right now, Derry’s tax rate is $30.48 per $1,000 of valuation. Rausch said if the school budget numbers aren’t brought under control, that number will go up.

Rausch said seeing such a dismal turnout at the annual meeting could be due to confusion as to what voters can and cannot do at that time.

“But the deliberative session is important,” he said. “Voters have options.”

Rausch said he hadn’t supported the town changed its form of government to a city previously, but now, it might be the answer — especially with the school budget.

“I am now convinced it’s the only way for us to get budgets under control is by changing to a city form of government,” he said. “That would bring the budget process all under one roof.”

Rausch said there is a serious disconnect between town and school, one the community can no longer handle.

“We have no accountability,” he said. “It’s the responsibility of all of us to find a solution.”

For any changes to happen, a charter commission would have be elected and put in place.

“I would fully support a charter that leads us in the direction that makes us a city,” Rausch said.

Resident Roberta Robie said changing the form of government won’t help if voters don’t get involved. She said the school district needs to consider the taxpayers.

“This has been going on as long as I can remember,” she said. “Being a city isn’t the answer. We need to get some people on the School Board that care about the taxpayers. There is no accountability.”