Bernardston weighs fix for assessment hike
Officials fear school may take away from town needs
BERNARDSTON — By the time the town decides how to fund an additional $34,752 for education, school will already be in session.
The town will decide whether to raise and appropriate the money, or take the funds from a stabilization account, in a September special town meeting. The date of the meeting is yet to be determined.
A drawn-out budget process this year left the Pioneer Valley Regional School District’s four towns guessing at their share of the district budget when they went to their annual town meetings.
While the amounts approved by Northfield, Leyden and Warwick were more than enough to cover the assessments reached in July, the 2.5 percent increase passed by Bernardston was about $34,000 short.
Bernardston’s assessment of $2.36 million for the coming school year represents a 4.03 percent, or $91,419, increase over last year’s.
While Northfield and Warwick saw increases of 2.96 and 2.91 percent, Leyden saw a decrease of 6.48 percent.
The amount each town must pay is set by the state. Assessments are arrived at using a formula that takes each town’s student enrollment, as well as its “ability to pay,” based on resident income, property values and municipal growth.
While three of the district towns have seen drop-offs in enrollment in the last five years, Bernardston’s enrollment has held steady, according to Dayle Doiron, district superintendent.
Selectmen fear that the school budget will continue to grow, taking away from other needs of the town.
“Next year, (our increase) could be another $90,000,” said Selectman Robert Raymond.
“If this continues, the town could be bankrupt in five to 10 years by paying for schools,” said Selectman Virginia Budness.
Because of the high cost of education, said Raymond, town employees like the chiefs of the police and fire department don’t get raises they deserve, and positions like the town clerk, tax collector and treasurer have to be kept below 20 work hours per week, because the town can’t afford to give them benefits.
“The only way we can afford (to pay for schools) is to keep our own employees underpaid,” agreed Budness.
Though the town could take the $34,752 from available stabilization funds, and avoid an increase in taxes, it could result in another raise to the town’s minimum contribution in coming years, said Budness.
“It’s almost a penalty to us for being financially responsible,” said Louis Bordeaux, chairman of the Board of Selectmen.
The other option is to raise and appropriate the money, meaning a hike in taxes.
David Rainville can be reached at:
or 413-772-0261, ext. 279