Brunswick school facilities referendum unlikely this year
BRUNSWICK — Superintendent of Schools Paul Perzanoski on Monday said a proposed $38 million plan to renovate Brunswick Junior High School and Coffin Elementary School is unlikely to go to voters this fall.
"I'd be very surprised if we went to referendum this November," Perzanoski said.
He also said it should not be considered in current budget discussions.
Town Manager Gary Brown agreed, and said even if the facilities plan does go out to referendum in November, property owners wouldn't feel a tax hike from the debt service until fiscal year 2016.
Brown said he didn't want to speculate on what the tax hike would be, if and when the town votes on a facilities plan of that magnitude, because the cost is far from finalized.
What is much closer to being finalized, meanwhile, is a 12 percent tax hike that would result from the $58.3 million proposed in town, school, and county budgets for next year.
Residents will have an opportunity to formally express their opinions about the fiscal 2014 spending plan at the first public budget forum on Monday, May 6.
Some have already made it clear where they stand.
Councilors shared their thoughts at a workshop with the School Board on April 25, where they also discussed what they've heard from constituents.
"I've been mulling this over a little bit and thinking about what my constituents have said to me, is 'how can we afford this?' I can't afford this," Councilor David Watson said. "... I'm just sitting here wondering, is there some sort of vehicle that we can find out what Brunswick can afford and what it can't afford. ... At what point will it break this community? That's the last thing I want to see."
Councilor Benet Pols said the council has already received several pieces of correspondence, either in support of or opposition to the proposed budget, some of which he posted on his website.
"I am puzzled/alarmed that the 'powers that be' in our town can even imagine that the local citizens can afford this type of increase," wrote residents Faith and Jim Logan in one letter produced by Pols. "... It is NEVER easy to say, 'NO' or make budget cuts whereby services are reduced or town/school employees might lose their jobs. However, we live in an economy where tough cuts and choices must be made."
In a letter supporting the school budget, another constituent said she "was struck that this was the first year in several where the focus was on education, not slashing budgets."
"This is the time to act to ensure we continue to support our children and educators," Alyssa Goodwin wrote, "in a way that allows them to provide the quality education Brunswick parents and residents expect."
Councilor John Richardson asked Superintendent of Schools Paul Perzanoski if there is any way his department could publish a document that shows the different kinds of revenue the town has lost over time.
"It's significant to know this is not just the reduction in state aid for Brunswick," Perzanoski responded. "This is the removal of impact aid of the base closing; this is the loss of approximately a million dollars in tuition that we used to get each year from Durham due to consolidation. So if you put all those three things together, like you said in the past, this is the perfect financial storm."
The $35.7 million school budget represents a 6.6 percent increase in expenditures and 10.32 percent in taxes. The $21.4 million town budget represents a nearly 7.1 percent increase in expenditures and 1.41 percent tax increases. The $1.2 million county budget represents a 5.6 percent increase in expenditures and 0.24 percent tax hike.
School Board member Rich Ellis on Monday said he hopes the Town Council will consider all aspects of the budget moving forward. He also acknowledged the difficult road ahead, as the council and board attempt to whittle down the proposed tax hike.
"A 12 percent increase for myself is going to be a difficult thing to address," Ellis said. "I know that's challenging. I also know it's unprecedented. ... It's in my belief if we're going to get some reductions, we need to work collaboratively and we need to look at both ends of the budget."
The public forum on Monday will be held at the Town Council's 7 p.m. meeting at the municipal meeting room on the second floor of Brunswick Station, 16 Station Ave. The combined budgets must be finalized by May 23.
The town will vote on the school budget on June 11.