G-M preliminary budget nixed

Re-vote likely next week

TURNERS FALLS — The Gill-Montague Regional School District does not yet have a preliminary budget, after the proposal failed to garner the required two-thirds majority of School Committee votes at this week’s meeting.

Under the regional agreement, the committee must have a tentative budget on or before Feb. 1.

Committee Chairwoman Joyce Phillips said the committee will try again to agree on the budget next week. At press time, the district office said that meeting had not yet been scheduled.

The preliminary budget proposed by business office contractor The Management Solution totals $19,155,043 under the new “all funds” approach, or $17,257,629 by the old way of reckoning the figure.

The committee voted on a lower figure, which TMS President Andrew Paquette said represents an apples-to-apples comparison to this year’s budget of $16,567,640 for an increase of 4.16 percent or $689,989.

Under the proposal, the initial calculation of assessments to the member towns, Montague’s share comes to $8,260,937, a 5.2 percent, or $410,333, increase over this year’s assessment. Gill’s proposed assessment is $1,450,330, an increase of $42,272, or 3 percent.

The total assessment to the member towns decreased $200,000 from the first draft of the preliminary budget presented earlier this month.

Paquette called the proposed preliminary budget a cap, with many outside funding sources still in flux at the state level.

Member Sandra Brown said she would vote against the proposed budget.

“We didn’t follow the budget process and I don’t think the budget is sustainable,” Brown said.

Paquette presented the budget as his company’s preliminary product, with the next step input from the relevant stakeholders.

Brown said the School Committee should have been more involved and the towns and residents should have had an opportunity to offer input from the beginning of the process.

Brown said the School Committee’s role as specified in the district’s budget process was not completed.

The process, which Brown said was voted in by the committee in 2009, includes the committee meeting with town officials at the beginning of the budget process.

Member Michael Langknecht said he shared Brown’s concerns but was willing to overlook them and vote for the preliminary budget because most of the district’s top administrators and the business contractor are new and it was not practical to make up the missing work before the February deadline.

Phillips said the committee had heard town input from John Hannold, a Montague Finance Committee member who spoke from the audience at the previous meeting. Valeria “Timmie” Smith of the Gill Finance Committee pointed out that she was present as well, albeit not as a private resident.

Member Marjorie Levenson agreed with Brown and objected to the sum being taken from the district’s excess and deficiency stabilization account, but said she would consider voting for the budget to put a figure on the table.

Phillips, Langknecht, Lesley Cogswell, Jane Oakes and Shelly Clark voted for the budget; Marjorie Levenson and Sandra Brown voted against it and Misty Lyons and Jennifer Waldron were absent.

A public hearing on the preliminary budget was already scheduled for Feb. 12 at 5:45 p.m. in Turners Falls High School.

You can reach Chris Curtis at:
r 413-772-0261, ext. 257

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