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Sunderland to vote on balanced budget

SUNDERLAND — For the first time since 2010, townspeople will be asked to vote on a balanced budget.

At the annual town meeting on Friday, townspeople will be asked to approve a $7,096,551 town operating budget, two historic Community Preservation Act projects and capital projects at the Frontier Regional School. The budget is for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Three years ago, the town had to pass a Proposition 2½ override to make up for a $200,000 shortfall. Since then, the Board of Selectmen has been conservative with its spending to stabilize the budget.

Not only are the finances in the black, the town has an excess levy capacity of $33,000.

Of the total $398,527 surplus or “free cash,” the town will use $119,558 in Fiscal Year 2014.

The town has a rule limiting itself to 30 percent of free cash each year.

The proposed town budget is $114,779 or 1.6 percent more than the current year’s budget.

There are 24 articles for townspeople to consider this year.

The Sunderland Historic Commission is asking for $22,000 in Community Preservation Fund money to repair and restore the Graves Memorial Library building windows and $20,000 to pay for the Town Office building restoration project.

For $3,900, the town would set up a Geographic Information System to make available online property records, maps and permit data. Of that sum, there is a $1,800 one-year start up cost and $2,100 total project cost.

The town will be given two choices in regards to the state Police Educational Incentive Program or the Quinn Bill. The town could either pay the total $15,704 for both the state and the town’s share for next year and continue to fund both portions at 100 percent during each year’s budget. Or — as the selectmen recommend — rescind its acceptance of the bill at the 2001 annual town meeting. This year, the state Legislature stopped paying its share of educational benefits for police officers, leaving cities and towns to pick up the tab. Before, the state and municipalities that adopted the legislation evenly split the cost. The 1970 Quinn Bill rewards police with a 10 percent raise from their base salary for an associate’s degree and a 20 percent salary increase for a bachelor’s degree, and 25 percent for a master’s degree.

A recent state Supreme Court ruling said cities and towns are not required to fund the state’s portion. The selectmen prefer to negotiate the benefits with the police union for local educational incentives.

Another $2,121 would be used to pay off the borrowing for the $4.1 million reconstruction and repair of the Sunderland Elementary School in 2003.

Like most years, the school budget has been center in the budget debate as the Board of Selectmen and Finance Committee worked to develop a balanced budget.

The proposed Sunderland Elementary School budget is $2,085,732, which is $34,446 or 1.7 percent more than the current year. The town’s share of the Franklin County Technical School is $198,446 — a decrease of $21,488 or 9.8 percent.

Of the $9,545,088 proposed Frontier Regional School budget, Sunderland is asked to pay $1,687,358 or $36,022 or 2.2 percent more. The budget increase includes $14,561 for a technology director, $5,000 for technology professional development and $23,000 to complete the school’s wireless connectivity, $20,093 for a full-time writing teacher, and $29,611 for a special education nurse.

The proposed school budget increased by $447,832, or 4.92 percent, from the current school year. The Frontier Regional School Committee is asking its four feeder towns —Deerfield, Conway, Whately, and Sunderland — to pay 6.65 percent more than they did last year toward the total.

The final school money may change depending on state aid. The Frontier Regional School Committee is also holding a special meeting on Wednesday to discuss the proposed budget at 7 p.m. in the school library. On the agenda will be whether they can reduce the budget — a plea made by the selectboards of its member towns.

A total $124,050 worth of capital projects are proposed. This includes $3,761 to replace the parking lot fence at the public library, $3,200 for mobile data terminals, $1,050 for police stun guns, $2,336 for the installation of salt shed siding, and $30,000 for pre-engineering for the North Main Street reconstruction project. About $5,401 will be used from last year’s remaining capital funds to pay for project costs.

On top of town capital projects would be the Frontier Regional School capital requests — a controversial request among the Frontier towns.

The School Committee asked the town to pay for $35,058 toward capital projects, but the selectmen have not recommended the request to the townspeople. Instead, the selectmen will make a motion to recommend only its $17,759 share of the safety and security updates.

The total proposed capital budget for the four towns is $133,250 — of which $67,500 is for safety and security improvements, $5,750 for electrical improvements, $30,000 for the replacement of a pick-up truck and $30,000 for a student transport van.

The town meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at the Sunderland Elementary School.

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