Voters OK new school budget figures

Thursday, July 10
OTIS — Special town meeting voters in Otis overwhelming approved a revised $1.77 million school budget assessment for the Farmington River Regional School District.

The figure is $149,000 above the limit of Proposition 2 1/2 and will be part of a tax override vote during a special town-wide election next week. In addition, voters approved nearly $150,000 toward the fiscal 2009 payment of the school bond issue, $36,795 of which is also subject to the July 15 override vote.

The two amounts combined make up Question 1 of the five-question override ballot voters will deal with Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Otis Town Hall.

The school budget assessment and bond payment overrides were originally approved at the annual town meeting, but defeated at the ballot box in May. The Farmington River School Committee came back to the town with an assessment $39,000 lower than the first one, while the bond payment figure was unchanged. Both amounts required a second town meeting vote.

School officials during Tuesday night's 45-minute meeting explained the override is necessary due to significant increases in special education costs and the need to replace 10-year-old technology.

"A good portion of our computers were bought when the new school opened in 1998," Farmington River School Principal Jeff Hatch told the 64 voters gathered at Town Hall.

"We are trying to educate our kids for the 21st century, but with the ones we have now we're educating them for the 20th century," added Hatch.

If voters pass all five questions Tuesday, Town Administrator Christopher Morris said the total tax bill in fiscal 2009, which began July 1, will jump $225 for a single-family home valued at $300,000. If all the questions fail, the annual tax bill will increase $60 for the fiscal year.

Town officials said if Otis again rejects the two school district expenditures, a "special district-wide meeting" of Otis and Sandisfield voters can jointly adopt a third proposal from the Farmington River school committee without an override vote. They added the state would eventually set a school budget amount, if the spending plan strikes out a third time.

Several residents during the meeting questioned the need for an override vote, with one taxpayer calling it "outlandish" the added school budget increase.

"This is the first time in many years we've asked for an override," noted Selectman Andrew Pyenson. "If not this year, we would be asking for one next year."

"However, the Finance Committee and Selectmen will try to do what it can to keep costs down over the next few months," added Pyenson.

Besides the school spending override, the special election ballot will include four other requests that figured into the original override rejected by the voters in May.

  • $45,600 will help fund the operating budget of the Otis Rescue Squad primarily to provide on-call staffing overnight and on weekends.

  • $20,825 would pay books, supplies and maintaining the Otis library and museum.

  • $20,250 will help the town recreation committee increase staffing, swimming lessons and pay for additional play equipment behind Town Hall.

  • $24,458.47 will defray other town expenses for fiscal 2009.


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