Saturday, April 7, 2012

“Imagine” if voting no meant saying yes to a 10% property tax increase.

We don’t know what the zealots behind school budget increases are cooking up at the moment, but here at Side offices, our imagination has been pondering the possibilities before us for budgets and tax increases.

Imagine this scenario.  In June, in addition to other primary races, Brunswick voters will get to vote yes or no on the budget the school board approves and the town council agrees to put before the electorate.  This is the election that town officials have determined this sign is not intended to influence:

We’ll leave that dead horse alone for the moment and move on.

As we understand it, the School Department is facing a roughly $3 million revenue ‘shortfall,’ or in street talk, a budgetary ‘hole.’  Such a sum equates to about a 10% property tax increase.
(This is not the same as the ‘holes’ you may be driving through as road paving funds get shunted to the school budget, thanks to our mischievous legislators.)

Imagine that voters do not approve the new budget sent to ballot, as unlikely as that is.  Knowing how much of a budget increase the school department will propose is irrelevant to our point here, other than a closing question for the interested student.

It’s our understanding that when voters do not approve a budget proposal, the school department begins the new fiscal year with the same budget as the fiscal year just ended.  Meanwhile, they prepare a revised budget to put before the voters.

In the worst case then, to avoid red-ink, the town council would have to grant a 10% property tax increase just for the school component of the total town budget.  We don’t know yet how much the municipal side will be looking for in tax rate increase.

That’s 10% without considering the obligations the school department will take on with a new teachers contract, the details of which have not been disclosed.  If it includes ‘cost increases beyond our control,’ the classic whitewash in such matters, on the scale of typical contracts, you can make that budgetary ‘hole’ deeper by another 2% or so in property tax increase.

We cannot speak to the law regarding teachers contracts under such a scenario, but our default view is that the MEA has had the legislature in the palm of their hand since forever, and statute more than likely stands in their favor.

We’ll look to town and school officials to enlighten us in such matters.  We know how much they enjoy coming to us with crisp revelations on tax matters, and we’ll gladly publish any corrections or clarifications they provide us here on these pages.

The really important question for you to imagine an answer to is this: 

If voting down the proposed budget could result in a property tax increase of 10% or more just to continue school funding at this year’s levels, how much larger a tax increase will be required to fund the budget they ask voters to approve?

As the sign says, “Imagine our (tax) future.” 

And “Invest (much higher taxes) in our schools.”

Maybe you should call your bank and ask them to ‘imagine’ you have more money in your checking account.  Good luck with that, pilgrim.

And in case you were wondering, the foregoing is not meant to influence any election outcome, in keeping with the decision by town officials.

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