Russell passes Gateway statutory assessment; defunds economic development director
RUSSELL – All warrant articles were approved by the 35 residents in attendance at the Annual Town Meeting in the Russell Elementary School June 10.
AMong the articles were the Gateway Regional and vocational school budgets and authorization for the town to borrow up to $180,000 to purchase a new dump truck and plow.
The biggest discussions of the meeting centered on the school budget and the absence in the budget of Russell’s shared portion of the salary for the regional economic development position, currently held by Jeanne LeClair.
The article for the Gateway Regional School District asked residents to raise and appropriate $2,126,966 for Russell’s statutory assessment to the district.
The School Committee had asked the towns to approve the alternative assessments based on an equal percentage increase to all the towns of 1.97%, which matched the increase in the district budget, and required all six towns to pass. The alternative assessment for Russell would have been $2,280,598 for fiscal year 2020.
Since the town of Montgomery voted down the alternative assessment at its annual meeting in May, the Russell Select Board instead posted the statutory assessment of $2,125,966 in the warrant. The statutory assessment is based on the March 1 student census in each town, and can swing wildly based on the movement in or out of town of a small number of students.
At the meeting, Gateway Superintendent David B. Hopson said because the School Committee gave the town the alternative assessment to approve, they should have kept the alternative in the warrant and changed it on the floor.
“Because one town rejected the alternative assessment, it’s’ a moot point. The statutory figure is what we’re left with,” said resident Virginia Hardie.
Russell School Committee member Lyndsey Papillon said the alternative assessment was developed due to “a cry from the towns” for more predictable school budgets. “My fear is by not going with the alternative assessment, we go back to the old way of never knowing,” she said.
Papillon also said she understood that the alternative assessment would have been more for Russell next year. “When Russell will be in a $250,000 hole and we want everyone else to vote the alternative, why should they?” she added.
Finance Committee member Ruth Kennedy said she had been involved in the discussion since the alternative method was first proposed. She said she had supported the cooperation of the six towns in developing it,
“This is an experimental time. We have to see what will help our town. Next year, it might help,” Kennedy said. She added that last year, she supported the alternative assessment in the budget, even though it was higher for Russell.
“We have a little over $100,000 in Free Cash. Does anybody want us to give that (to the district),” she asked.
Another discussion took place around the elimination of Russell’s portion of salary for the economic development director, a shared position in the Gateway towns. Montgomery also did not fund the position this year.
At the start of the meeting, Finance Committee member Derrick Mason expressed his disappointment that the position was being passed over.
“Last year, the town voted to fund the position. The Select Board in its wisdom chose not to pay that position,” Mason said.
Selectman Keith Cortis replied that a lot of questions had been put forth by Montgomery and Russell, and the committee couldn’t guarantee the changes that were suggested by the towns.
“We said we wouldn’t sign the contract until legal approved it,” Cortis said, adding that originally, the position was grant funded by the state, and when the grant ended, the job was never posted.
Later in the meeting, Papillon asked going forward, whether the town intended to fund the position, and relieve the future tax burden on residents.
Selectman Jeffrey Bean said yes, but repeated that the way the contract was done and the position hired, they were not sure it were legal.
Another resident asked if that meant that the economic development director would not be doing any work on behalf of Russell this year, to which the Select Board replied she would not.