RICHMOND — The town has agreed to put up nearly $240,000 to fund a residential program for a high-needs special education student.
At a drive-in special town meeting Wednesday, residents approved the spending plan, which was divided into two parts, after explanations by Richmond Consolidated School Superintendent Peter Dillon and Selectman Neal Pilson.
"We're here tonight to decide not whether we're going to make the special education payment and incur the expense, but how we're going to do it," Pilson told voters via FM radio frequency as they assembled in their vehicles just ahead of a picturesque sunset.
Turnout was 48 voters out of 1,207 registered in the town, or 4 percent. At a special town meeting, only 10 voters are needed for a quorum.
Dillon explained that a Richmond student with "very extraordinary" needs required placement in a residential program, based on a detailed examination of the student's circumstances. Citing privacy requirements, he said he could not cite the student's age, but he confirmed that the town is obligated to cover tuition until the age of 22.
Acknowledging the high cost, the superintendent noted that during his 30 years in education, including a stint in New York City, he had only seen four or five such cases.
"It doesn't happen a lot, but it happens and it's legitimate," Dillon said.
Pilson noted that the state requires town government to cover such expenses. But, residents will see no impact on their property taxes during the current fiscal year. That's because instead of an expected 20 percent cut in local aid by the state, those payments to the town will be level-funded.
"If you have confidence in the judgment of the Finance Committee, the Select Board, the School Committee and the town administrator, we feel the payment from the funds we've identified is the best way to do it," Pilson said.
He also pointed out that failure to approve the payments would require the town to foot the entire bill on its own out of this year's operating budget, requiring cuts in services to residents.
By a simple majority, voters easily approved spending $50,000 from the town's operating budget for the tuition plan. The state's formula requires localities to cover the first $48,000 of the total annual tuition.
In a separate vote, residents approved by the required two-thirds majority a transfer of $190,000 from the town's stabilization reserves for the remaining cost, leaving $361,000 in that "rainy day" fund.
Dillon noted that nearly half the $237,759 tuition will be reimbursed annually by the state, but the paybacks won't start until next year.
Concluding the 24-minute meeting, voters unanimously approved $474 in unpaid salaries to two town employees, the sale or lease of five small, unusable town-owned parcels, and a bylaw for a sticker system, possibly with fees, for the use of the town's tennis courts reserved for local residents.
Because the town accepted state aid to update the town beach and boat launch, those amenities are open to nonresidents as well as locals.
Clarence Fanto can be reached at email@example.com, on Twitter @BE_cfanto or at 413-637-2551.