, Derry, New Hampshire

February 7, 2013

Derry town, school officials gather to brainstorm

By Julie Huss

---- — DERRY — Town and school officials met with local legislators at Pinkerton Academy last week to talk money and how to help residents when tax bills appear.

This type of meeting has not happened often.

With different factions seemingly going their own ways during budget season and all on different schedules and deadlines, officials are trying to end up on the same page.

“We want to try and work on developing a relationship in the town when we can all work together,” Town Council Chairman Brad Benson said. “Right now, we are running independently to a certain degree.”

Pinkerton Academy trustees and officials firm up their budget numbers in the fall. Derry School Board members are now in the thick of their season with the recent deliberative session held Saturday. The town is the last to begin budget work, with final numbers not approved until May.

Benson said it was good to gather and hear what everyone is working on and what could be done to help Derry’s tax rate.

Right now, the rate is $30.48, one of the state’s highest.

“We are not blaming anyone, but we have a tax problem in Derry,” Benson said, “and we’ll continue to have a tax problem in Derry if we don’t get together and solve it.”

The school district is dealing with less money coming to town from the state for adequacy funding and also has incurred higher retirement and health-care costs.

The proposed budget for next year is $81.9 million after voters Saturday agreed to restore $800,000 to help save jobs.

Pinkerton’s $36.4 million budget for next year shows a 2.99 percent increase over the high school’s current budget.

Students attending the high school from its contracted towns, including Derry, will pay $10,292 per student, an increase of $277.

Having Pinkerton, the Derry district, town and state representatives get on the same budget train in town would serve all parties, officials said.

“We need to consolidate our budgets and see what we’re doing,” Town Councilor Joel Olbricht said. “There are four groups here (tonight). We need to harmonize; we need to see where our challenges are.”

That includes finding ways to stabilize Derry’s tax rate.

School officials said they did everything they could to save money, including cutting positions and making cuts wherever they could.

Pinkerton Headmaster Mary Anderson said the school’s enrollment is dropping and that drives the annual tuition rate per student.

Some said groups in town are already working together to help save money.

School district business administrator Jane Simard works closely with town financial chief Frank Childs when it’s time for the tax rate to be set.

The town and school also bond when it comes to sharing facilities and saving money on heating oil and sand during the winter.

“We have a good working relationship with the town,” Simard said. “We do work well together and we are all very aware of our taxpayers. We try to consolidate services and resources.”

Benson said it always seems to be the rising school costs driving the tax rate, but he wants the town to be an equal partner in solving the problem.

“This is not just a school or a Pinkerton problem,” he said. “This is a town problem and it’s not going to go away.”

Benson wants the dialogue to continue.

“I hope you don’t feel this has been a waste of time,” Benson said. “But it’s very, very important for the taxpayers.”