TVSB Chair Seth Boyd announced that the Whitingham Selectboard and Listers had successfully appealed the state’s common level of appraisal (CLA). The CLA is a state-calculated figure that, under Act 68, is intended to equalize property values statewide for the purpose of education taxation.
The big change in the town’s CLA was based on a re-evaluation of power company property in the town. The effect on Whitingham’s projected education tax rate was devastating. Board members had told voters they expected that the result of the bond vote would add about 9 cents to the tax rate in the first year of the bond – after the change in CLA, Whitingham voters were looking at an increase of 17 cents.
But, thanks to the success of the listers and the selectboard in reducing the impact of the re-evaluation on the CLA, Whitingham’s tax rate will be even lower than board members had expected. Instead of the projected 9-cent increase over last year’s rate, the increase will only be about 5 cents. According to Boyd, Whitingham’s residential education property tax is now estimated at $1.47. Last year’s rate was $1.42. The change in the CLA also reduced the increase in the nonresidential rate, which will rise about one cent, from last year’s $1.30 to $1.31. “We really appreciate the work of the selectboard and listers who got on top of this and got us where we wanted to be,” said Boyd.
In related matters, the board has set a date of groundbreaking for construction of the Twin Valley Middle/High School for Friday, August 2, at 9 am. “All of the permits are in, and we’re ready to start construction,” Boyd said. “It’s just a matter of scheduling for the contractors.”
Board member Phil Taylor said the building was being readied for middle school students, who will be using it during construction through the school year. The elementary pod, cafeteria, and library have been reconfigured for exclusive use by the middle school. “We’ve set up an industrial arts room, an art room, music room; in general, things look good.”
At the elementary school construction site, Taylor said the playground is in for a few changes. “We’re looking at some new swings, retooling the zip lines and other stuff to get it all in good working order. We also salvaged the climbing walls and we want to put together a small lateral climbing wall, like a jungle gym.”
Taylor said the school will be replacing the bark mulch that has covered the playground for safety with a much different material – pea stone. Although it may not seem like stone could afford the same protection from injury that bark mulch does, Taylor said it’s not only effective in preventing injury from a fall, it’s approved by the state for use on playgrounds. “Pea stone is ridiculously cheap, and it doesn’t decay,” he said. “It’s like falling on a pile of marbles.”
In other matters, the board debated the merits of a request to purchase two used school buses, rather than one new bus as they had planned in their budget. The two used 2006 school buses would cost about $17,500 each, for a total of $35,000. But that might only be the beginning of their cost. Business manager Karen Atwood told board members that Dave Briggs, of Briggs Automotive in Jacksonville, inspected the buses for the school, and said they were in good shape. But he said his inspection didn’t reveal the extent of work on the brakes and other systems that might need to be done. The additional work to bring them up to standard could run as high as $3,000 per bus. In her long conversation with Briggs, Atwood said, he also noted that two of the current buses are “crap that we never should have purchased” and that several of the buses would soon need new tires. The new buses that the school recently purchased, Briggs told Atwood, “are wonderful and going to last a long time, but we need to buy buses with air brakes not hydraulic brakes.”
According to the discussion, one of the two proposed buses would be a spare, and it could save the school money that is now being spent to charter buses for athletic transportation (about $400 per trip). But board members John Doty also noted that the school had hoped to reduce their bus maintenance costs by about $20,000 this year, thanks to the purchase of a new bus. He said $18,500 had been budgeted for the first year’s payments on a new bus, the cost of which was estimated at about $80,000.
“The maintenance costs on used buses will add up quickly,” said board member Dwight Williams.
“Yes, we found that out,” said Boyd.
Williams suggested the board deny the request for the two used buses, and move forward with the purchase of a new bus. Doty agreed. “That was the plan,” he said. “The budget is a plan, and I think we ought to follow our plan. It was a good plan in November; why isn’t it good now?” The board agreed in a unanimous vote.