2008-06-05 / Front Page

Voters pass $20.7 million budget at annual meeting

By Rudd Hall

In a brief but efficient Financial Town Meeting Monday the proposed $20.7 million budget plan for the 2008-2009 fiscal year was passed by a small gathering of 115 of Jamestown's registered voters.

After a comical opening by Town Moderator Jim Donnelly, School Committee Chairwoman Catherine Kaiser addressed the audience- outlining to voters the reasons for the increases in this year's school spending plan. An outline was deemed necessary due to the frustration voiced by some after an editorial in last week's Press. She wanted to answer the most important question, "Why does the school budget continue to increase when enrollment was declined?" she said.

Kaiser explained that, "enrollment at our two island schools has declined, decreasing by 108 students since the spring of 2002," the year the school board decided to close the first classroom. Since then the schools have closed an additional seven classrooms, Kaiser said. But, "it must be noted," Kaiser said, "that when our high school numbers are added in, the total district enrollment has declined far less, from 735 in 2002 to just under 700 projected for next year."

Kaiser explained that costs are rising everywhere in today's economy, the increasing cost of fuel, escalating health insurance costs, and town money that goes into the state pension fund; all these factors contribute to a budget increase. The other major increase is the cost of funding special education programs, Kaiser explained. "This is in fact a major problem in most school districts after the No Child Left Behind Act was passed," Kaiser said. This issue has been a point of contention between the Town Council and School Committee. Town Council member William Kelly later said, "We're not arguing against special education needs obviously, we have a very good special ed program and we should never curtail it or cut it, but, we should demand more equitable funding from the state."

Kaiser said, "Our long term goal is both to bring some currently out placed students back to the district and to provide revenue by tuitioning in students from other towns."

The spending proposal was passed unanimously by the school committee and the voters followed suit with a majority "aye" vote.

Three annual housekeeping resolutions passed, but Resolution number 4, for improvement and expansion of the police station, met with the most "nay" votes of any resolution on the agenda. Town Administrator Bruce Keiser, later explained, "people are tired of spending money unless it's absolutely necessary." He said, for example $100,000 of the $400,000 of the money for the police station upgrade goes to the HVAC (heating, ventilation air-conditioning system) that isn't even working, so you can see their frustration." The resolution passed despite some negative votes.

Other resolutions that passed were Numbers 5 and 6, Expenditures from Undesignated Fund Balance, and Setting the Tax Rate, which jumped from $7.81 per $1,000 of assessed value to $8.11- a 4.64 percent increase.

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