Tax override ballot question fails in Sunderland

Recorder Staff
Thursday, May 18, 2017

SUNDERLAND — School officials say budget cuts are on the horizon after a Proposition 2½ override ballot question failed 277 against 235 in favor at Saturday’s annual town election.

The failed ballot question follows the annual town meeting last week where voters approved a $7,578,569 budget pending Saturday’s decision.

“The turnout was disappointingly low,” said Elementary School Committee Chairman Douglas Fulton. According to town officials, 22.31 percent of the town’s 2,317 voters cast ballots during the election.

If the override had passed, tax rates would have gone up 86 cents from $14.34 to $15.20, expanding the town’s tax base by $300,000 per year in anticipation of rising school expenses and declining rainy day funds.

Now, town officials must find a way to bridge a $50,000 revenue gap in this year’s budget and plan for potentially bigger cuts next year.

“This year, we may not feel the full brunt because of favorable one-time free cash. But we knew it was coming next year,” Fulton said, noting it’s “extremely unlikely” the town will have the same amount of free cash in coming years.

“Out of the gate next year we have $75,000 to $100,000 less available to us on the revenue side,” Fulton said. “In a $2.5 million budget, that’s 4 percent before any cost increases just in terms of revenue shortfall.”

That projected deficiency in the school’s budget is because rising costs have drained rainy day funds. “We’re spending away surplus. We’ll take in about $350,000 from School Choice funds, we’re spending about $425,000,” Fulton continued.

On average, Fulton said school budgets make up about two-thirds of the town’s yearly expenses, split between the elementary school and Sunderland’s assessment for Frontier Regional School — which isn’t flexible because it’s a regional expense.

“When there are cuts — again, I don’t know what the dollar amounts will be, but the override was $300,000 — if they do that across the board, that’s $100,000 from the elementary school,” Fulton said, remembering another failed override vote in 2009, which resulted in drastic school cuts.

“We had cuts across the board: teachers, assistants, specials. The town fundraised to keep part-time art and music in the school. It was literally fundraisers. Art and music was cut. Physical education was reduced to the bare minimum. It was ugly. And because of that kids ended up choicing out.”

“It’s shocking,” he said. “Again, the numbers aren’t as dramatic — but there will be cuts and an impact on the school. We’ll certainly do our best.”

No one from the Selectboard, which will meet Monday evening, was immediately available to comment on the election results.

Other election results

All candidates listed on the ballot won their seats. The results are as follows.

Robert Duby was elected as Moderator; Lyn Abbe Roberts to the Frontier Regional School Committee; Stephen Schneider on the Planning Board; Thomas Fydenkevez Jr. as Selectman.

Gregory Gottschalk and Keith McFarland will serve on the Sunderland Elementary School Committee; Natalie Blais, Gerald Bridwell, Hollis Graves and Valerie Voorheis as Public Library Trustees; Kristy Jean Paciorek on the Board of Health; and Janet Sawyer Bergeron as Riverside Cemetery Trustee.

You can reach Andy Castillo

at: acastillo@recorder.com

or 413-772-0261, ext. 263

On Twitter: @AndyCCastillo