Residents gave thumbs up to both proposed budgets this Town Meeting Day, voting 1,685 to 968 in favor of the town budget and 1,482 to 1,211 in favor of the school budget, according to unofficial numbers provided by town manager Dawn Francis.
School superintendent Amy Minor said the district was thrilled to have the continued support of the community, in an emailed statement Tuesday night.
“They demonstrated today that our schools are an integral part of Colchester’s future,” Minor wrote. “With the approval of the [fiscal year 2019] school budget, we will continue to foster excellence in our children’s education while remaining fiscally responsible to our taxpayers.”
The $40.57 million school budget, a 3.67 percent increase over the current year, will prompt a 10.18 percent tax increase. Estimated per-pupil spending, the figure printed on the ballot, will go up 2.99 percent.
The owner of a $300,000 home who does not qualify for income sensitivity will see a $444 tax increase.
The increased funds are partially earmarked for 2.2 new full-time employees in grade 6 — an unusually large cohort of students is set to enter the middle school next year. The proposal removed one FTE from a different area of the district.
In January, Minor said the state-determined “dollar year amount” and the town’s common level of appraisal were partially to blame for the double-digit tax increase.
The two levers have a significant impact on local tax rates when plugged into the education funding formula along with the local school’s budget increase. This year, Minor said even a 0 percent budget increase in Colchester would have resulted in a 5.5 percent school tax hike for residents.
The state could still make the decision to change its dollar yield amount, just as it did last year. Voters approved a budget resulting in an estimated 3.89 percent tax rate increase on Town Meeting Day 2017. After votes were cast, though, the number fell to 2.89 percent.
At the pre-Town Meeting Day gathering on Monday night, one resident pressed Minor to explain relatively low test standardized scores in the middle grades. Another wondered whether board members keep budget constraints in mind when negotiating teacher salaries.
“We’ve never succeeded, and probably never will, with making everybody in the community happy with how we settle on negotiations,” school board vice-chairman Lincoln White said. “But I do think we can really be proud as a community we never got close to the tension or strikes [as] in other communities.”
The approved town budget totals $12.8 million, a 2.9 percent increase on last year’s budget, and sets aside significant funding for emergency service personnel.
“The selectboard is extremely pleased with the passing of each of the town’s articles, and we’d like to thank the voters for continued confidence and support in our government,” selectboard chairwoman Nadine Scibek said Tuesday evening.
The package includes a local match for two full-time firefighters to provide daytime coverage for the entire town. The budget also adds a 29th Colchester Police Department officer and sixth “career staff” member to Colchester Rescue.