Concord: Quiet Today, Loud in April

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concordCONCORD - For the first time in many years, Concord residents are not voting on a school budget on Town Meeting Day. Now that Concord has joined the Kingdom East District, residents from all eight unified towns will vote on their newly designed school budget on April 10th.

 Without the educational element on the ballot, town hall was calm as the polls opened at 10 o'clock this morning. Residents circulated in and out to place their votes, seemingly impartial to the 18 articles up for determination. In a meeting with select-board chairman George Morehouse last month, he discussed the lack of controversy facing the town. Overall, Concord is seeing a two-percent budget increase over last year, accumulating a total of $787,053 dollars. This is an increase that Morehouse credited to "standard operating cots."

However, two articles within the town warning that Morehouse did point out included the increased appropriation for Calex Ambulance Services, and the Essex County Sheriff's request for more money.

In regard to Calex, they are asking for higher appropriations in all of the towns that they serve. C.E.O of the company, Michael Wright, said in an interview yesterday that the financial influx is needed to cover the cost of readiness. "We're doing approximately 600 no transports every year, but we always have to have crews available, so there are three crews that are always on based on our averages of call volumes. So we have days where we don't transport at all, and then we have days like yesterday where we did about 12-15 calls. So on those slow days we still have to staff up, and that covers that expense."

In Concord, Calex is asking for an appropriation of $19,143 dollars, which is a $4,000 dollar increase from last year.

As far as the Sheriff's Department goes, they are seeking an additional $7,500 dollars in order to provide greater coverage to residents.

The relaxed feeling in Concord today greatly contrasts years past, as the town has faced difficult decisions involving their schooling system. At the last year's Town Meeting Day, voters decided to join Kingdom East, and this year, a finance committee has constructed a budget for their first year as a unified district. The budget involves eight towns, one school-board, and amounts to a total of $33.9 million dollars. According to superintendent Jennifer Botzojorns, it's a plan that's been very carefully thought out. "They looked very closely at money needed for each school, and each program, and put together a single unified budget which is divided up by categories such as human resources, personnel, education, transportation, administration. And so what we're seeing this year is a different format of the budget because it is much bigger because it includes Lunenburg, Concord, Lyndon, Burke, Sutton, Newark, Sheffield, and Wheelock which is Miller's Run. So it's all put together and it's $33.9 million dollars which is a bit more than normal."

Botzojorns discussed the importance of educating tax-payers on the budget because the steep price-tag can be very intimidating. "One of our goals is to really educate folks and let them know what this budget represents, because for many, they may be used to seeing a $2 or $3 million dollar budget and suddenly they see $33.9 million dollars, which is a lot of money. However, we are actually spending less, or our proposed budget is less than is for all combined this year, and there's about $750 thousand dollars worth of savings from consolidating, from closing our central office. Instead of having two we're having just one, so there are some savings," she said.

The superintendent also explained that just because the total budget amounts to a large number, doesn't mean that resident's tax bills will as well. "It's a bit of a multi step formula to find out what the actual tax rate is. You see the big number for the budget, but that doesn't necessarily reflect what you'll be paying in taxes," said Botzojorns. "The majority of the towns, they're taxes will go down, all but two."

According to Business Manager, Tisha Hankinson, taxes will not be able to increase or decrease by for than 5% from the FY18 Equalized tax rate within the first four years of unification.

Botzojorns explained that the board has worked very hard to present a budget that is fiscally sound, provides the programs needed for students, and keeps the tax-payers in mind. Nevertheless, she knows that the budget's failure to be approved is a possibility. "If the budget doesn't pass we'll do what we always do. Go back to the table, find out from community members - what they saw or didn't see in the budget, and then go back to the drawing board and make adjustments."

The school-board intends to host a series of meetings educating the public about the new budget throughout the first week of April, leading up to the vote on April 10th. No matter what your opinion, Botzojorns encourages everyone to get out to the polls. "It's a change, it's something new. We're thinking about all the children in the region, and we're trying to look at how we're prividing education for all of them. There's a lot of informational meetings, so come out and ask questions. Just go out and vote, no matter how you feel about it. That's the great thing about living in a democracy, we have the opportunity to vote. So April 10th!"