Town Council Chairman John Farrell opened Thursday’s (Nov. 7) Town Council meeting with a 14-minute long statement, after claiming he received numerous phone calls since the tax bill went out to the town’s residents. Farrell said he wishes to provide some information, based on the questions he received.
He began by explaining that Fiscal Years are between July 1 and June 30 and that the tax bill is adjusted in accordance to what passed at the polls in that year’s March elections. Dollars collected in the bill go for the current Fiscal Year, said Farrell and the revaluation that was done by the town this year, the first one since 2014, changed the situation.(Farrell added that a new process is going to be discussed and hopefully, the town will start doing valuations every two years instead of every five. According to the Chairman, without the assessments, which were set on Apr. 1, the tax rate would have gone up from $21.80 to $22.47, however, instead, it went down to $19.39.
Farrell went on to say that in Londonderry, 72 percent of every dollar that is collected, goes to education. He provided some numbers – Since 2010, the town raised $20 million in new revenue. During this time span, the schools budget saw a $16 million increase. Also since 2010, the amount of children in the town’s school dropped from approximately 5,100 to 4,150 (including students from Hooksett) according to Farrell.
The Chairman, who has been critical of the School Department in recent months, while the Capital Improvement Plan (where he also serves as the committee chairman) was being discussed, said that over the last seven or eight years, the town has stayed either on or under its default budget. Over the last two years, however, the voters have approved a school budget over default, by $300,000 to $500,000.
On Saturday’s Town Annual Budget Hearing, Farrell admitted that he had recently learned, after serving for nearly 15 years in the CIP Committee that once the projects receive their scores from the committee members and the plan is set, it needs to be reviewed by the Town Council and the Budget Committee. That was done on Saturday (despite the fact it was not part of the hearing’s agenda). “We’ve actually done it in joint session, in public”, said Farrell. “So those that are out there saying it’s never been done, as said many times in this country today – fake news.”
This year’s CIP has $70 million in school expansion and maintenance for the next five years. The biggest project is the creation of additional space for the K-5 grades, as the School Department believes this to be a major problem in the near future. Farrell has been doubtful in recent months about the School Department claims, since there are approximately 1,000 less students in the town’s schools than there used to be. Farrell repeated his statement that the town does not see any major projects on the horizon, for the next five to ten years.
He also said that if the School Board wants to add the Full Day Kindergarten program, another issue that has been discussed in recent months. is that full day kindergarten, by state law, must go to the voters. According to Farrell, the operational cost for Full Day Kindergarten is $800,000-$900,000 per year.
Other projects that the School Department is trying to push forward in the CIP, said Farrell, are $12-15 million in repairs (mainly for the Londonderry Middle School), $3-4 million for turf fields and a new SAU office building, which will cost $4 million.
The Chairman continued saying that last year the School Department, decided it needed to move from the building where they had been located, which was attached to Town Hall and recently demolished. “There was no actual medical diagnostic proof that was shown”, said Farrell. However, the School Department claimed the move was necessary and the town, through a citizen, was asked whether it would give the School Department a $2 million interest-free loan from the undesignated fund balance to build a new facility.
Farrell said that instead of paying back $200,000 a year, for 10 years, the School Department declined the offer and instead, leased the building at 6 Kitty Hawk for 10 years, paying $250,000 per year, plus $35,000 in taxes to the town, as this is not a governmental building. Farrell went on to say that the School Department has 24 employees and about 500 square feet per person at Kitty Hawk, “about the size of a two car garage per person, to give you an idea of how much room they have in Kitty Hawk, which is so far out of town that I don’t think anybody has been up there too much.” He claimed that now, the School Department is looking at purchasing land and building the $4 million building, “yet they have a 10-year lease.”
Another claim made by Farrell was that over the last two-three years, the town has negotiated a new health care plan with its employees and saved $250,000 every year with this new plan. Farrell said that the Town Council took the same idea to the School Department, after the insurance company said that with the amount of employees there, this could save $1-1.5 million every year. The School Department rejected the offer, according to Farrell.
Shortly after Thursday meeting, School District Finance Director, Peter Curro, was asked to repsond to the questions Farrell raised. Five days later Curro’s response was, “Since we have not seen the video of the Town Council meeting, it would be irresponsible to provide any comment at this time. We will be requesting a copy of the meeting, and if appropriate, we will respond to the alleged comments by the Town Council Chair at a later date.”
Following Farrell’s statement, several residents approached the council members and Town Manager, Kevin Smith. Two of them said they were very surprised to to see the new assessments done, and had not heard anything about them. One complimented the town services, however, saying she and her family are new in Londonderry. To the other, Smith promised the town will make better effort in the future so that the residents will be aware of this kind of thing. Glenn Douglas, who sits in the town’s Recreation Committee, told Farrell and the council members in attendance that the Town Council and School Board used to have shared meetings and that they need to get together now, because the current situation is bad. Farrell answered that the Town Council had offered this, but the School Board did not want to have this type of meeting.