The Elmore-Morristown school board is proposing a 2019-20 budget that’s $460,175 higher than current spending. If approved, the budget will drive up property taxes in both towns.
Voters in Elmore and Morristown will decide on the $14,533,950 budget proposal — a 3.3 percent increase — at the polls on Town Meeting Day, March 5.
That vote may be moot, though, if the Elmore-Morristown and Stowe school districts fail to win a delay, either in the Legislature or the courts, of the state order forcing them to merge as of July 1.
If merger becomes reality, voters in all three towns will have to approve a combined school budget later in the spring.
In the meantime, though, Stowe and Elmore-Morristown are also preparing separate budgets that would fund the status quo.
The Elmore-Morristown budget proposal would raise property taxes in both towns. In Elmore, the local homestead tax rate would increase to $1.494 per $100 of property value, up from $1.432; that would add $62 to the bill for a $100,000 property. In Morristown, the rate would increase from $1.38 to $1.427, adding $47 to the tax bill for a $100,000 property.
The local homestead tax rate is different in each town because each has a different common level of appraisal, which is a measure of how closely a town’s local property appraisals align with fair market value. Decreases in the common level of appraisal result in higher tax rates, and that’s just what has happened recently in Elmore and Morristown.
The tax rate on businesses and second homes would also increase — in Elmore, from $1.599 to $1.647, and in Morristown from $1.541 to $1.572.
Lamoille South Superintendent Tracy Wrend said the budget proposal maintains current staffing and programs at the Elmore School, Peoples Academy Middle and High School and Morristown Elementary, with two exceptions. One classroom teacher is being cut from the middle school budget, and one from the elementary budget.
“We can accommodate due to declines in enrollment,” Wrend said. In recent years Morrisville’s schools have seen high peaks and low valleys in terms of student enrollment by grade, and currently there is less need for classroom teachers in the younger grades.
A 20-year-old bond is expiring at the end of the school year, Wrend added, and the school board has decided to begin placing the $110,000 a year that’s been going into loan payments for that into a reserve fund instead.
That fund will help pay for future school improvements and renovations.
Revenues from sources other than property taxes are down in the proposed budget, Wrend said, largely because the board expects the amount of tuition money paid to the district to decrease by nearly $69,000. That, combined with the expiration of a $13,000 small-schools grant, accounts for nearly all of the expected $82,025 loss in revenues.
On March 5, residents in both Elmore and Morristown will also fill several seats on the seven-member school board. Stuart Weppler, a longtime board member from Elmore, is not seeking re-election; Kaitlyn Jones, daughter of current school board vice chair Penny Jones, has filed to run for that position.
Incumbents Christy Snipp and Karen Cleary, both Morristown residents, have filed to run again for three-year terms and are unopposed.
The Elmore-Morristown School Board will continue to oversee its school district only if the state-forced merger with Stowe is delayed or overturned in court.
The polls will be open for voters from both towns to cast a ballot on the budget, and elect board members, on Tuesday, March 5, from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Elmore voters cast ballots at the Elmore town offices; voters in Morristown vote at the municipal building on Portland Street.
The Australian ballot votes on Town Meeting Day aren’t the only bits of school business that need attention.
On Thursday, Feb. 28, at 6 p.m., the Elmore-Morristown school district will hold its annual meeting in the Peoples Academy auditorium. The big-ticket item there involves using how a $700,000 budget surplus will be used.
Most years, surplus funds are used to reduce the amount needed from property taxes to finance the budget, Wrend said.
Other business Feb. 28 includes electing a moderator, clerk and treasurer, authorizing the school board to borrow money to pay expenses, and setting a yearly stipend for school board members. The meeting that night will also serve as the informational meeting for the Australian ballot budget vote the following Tuesday.