---- — Derry and Londonderry residents will have their say at the polls Tuesday on some major spending issues as town and school elections are held.
An $81.9 million school budget threatens Derry with the highest property tax rate in the state. But lack of voter interest in the earlier deliberative session means there is now little voters can do to limit spending.
Just 83 voters attended the Feb. 2 school deliberative session — less than one-half of 1 percent of the town’s 17,700 registered voters. They voted to restore $800,000 that had been cut from the school budget, resulting in a 1.65 percent increase over the current year’s spending. That decision, according to state Sen. Jim Rausch, could raise the town’s tax rate to $33.45 per $1,000, which could give Derry the highest tax rate in New Hampshire.
If voters reject the $81,903,691 budget at Tuesday’s school district election, the higher default budget of $81,927,550 will kick in, costing residents even more on their tax rate. It was enough for Rausch to call for Derry to shift from a town to a city form of government, which would bring all school and municipal budgeting under one roof.
Perhaps the more important choice Derry residents will make Tuesday is in the election of School Board members. Previous boards have presented budgets to voters with per pupil spending rising 116 percent over the last decade, even as student enrollment has declined nearly 18 percent, according to Rausch.
Voters will choose two School Board members. Incumbents Brenda Willis and Ken Linehan are both seeking three-year terms on the board and are running against newcomers Jeri Murphy and Melanie Davis.
Derry voters will also elect town councilors and a town clerk.
On the council, there are two contested races. Incumbent Joel Olbricht is facing Mark Osborne for the councilor-at-large seat. Incumbent David Milz is running against Tom Cardon for the District 2 council seat. Al Dimmock is running unopposed for the open District 4 council position as Brian Chirichiello is not seeking another term.
Town Clerk Denise Neale is running for another three-year term. She faces former town councilor Janet Fairbanks.
In Londonderry, voters will consider school safety proposals on both the town and school ballots.
The school warrant includes a $170,000 spending plan to update security at all the district’s buildings. The plan would add a districtwide card access system, training and door monitoring and sensor systems. In addition, voters will be asked to approve the school’s proposed $66 million operating budget.
Also on the school warrant is a $4.5 million plan to pay for renovations and construction of buildings in the district, if and when they are needed.
There are no contested races for school-related posts. Incumbent School Board member John Laferriere is unopposed for a three-year term. Mary Wing-Soares is the only candidate for the three-year school district clerk job. John Conley seeks the school district treasurer job and Robert Sauer is running unopposed for the three-year school moderator term.
In the municipal election, voters will be asked to spend $101,000 to add another school resource officer. This measure is on the municipal ballot as the officer is part of the Police Department. The addition of a resource officer has the support of many town officials.
Voters will decide on a proposed $27.5 million town operating budget and other articles calling for $500,000 for a road maintenance fund and $290,000 for a zoning audit.
In the races for municipal offices only two — town clerk/tax collector and a two-year Budget Committee position — are contested. Incumbent town clerk Meg Seymour faces a challenge from Patti Hanley Maccabe. Gary Vermillion and Glenn Douglas are running for the Budget Committee position.
Incumbent Town Councilors John Farrell and Tom Dolan are unopposed for two three-year terms.
February’s deliberative sessions were disappointing with turnouts in both Derry and Londonderry below 1 percent. We urge voters is both communities to get out to the polls Tuesday.