A Tale of Two Deliberative Sessions

by Lynne Ober

All are at attention for the singing of the National Athem.

Coincidentally Hudson and Litchfield both held their school deliberative sessions this past Saturday, but each took a different route to their presentations.  Both towns have Budget Committees who review and, typically, cut budgets prepared by the governing board, but the way that the two towns deal with those cuts presented a marked contrast in styles.

In Hudson voters have spoken and said that every new position must go into a warrant article that is voted on separately by the town.  In Litchfield the Budget Committee reviews the requests, and makes a determination whether it should be in the operating budget or on a warrant article.  Each year, after deliberations, they allow the governing body to add new positions to the operating budget and every year Litchfield school board does just that.

In Hudson every new expenditure over $50,000 must go into a warrant article that is voted on separately by the town.  In Litchfield, that is not the case and many new items get put into the operating budget.

Howard Dilworth Jr. introduces the board.

With those two sharp differences, one might assume that Hudson would demonstrate more problems with their revised budget than Litchfield, but year after year that is not so.

In Hudson two presentations are made on the operating budget.  One discusses the budget that the Budget Committee has modified.  That presentation looks at new items still in the operating budget, talks about where the budget has increased or, rarely, decreased and presents the overall tax impact to the town.  No one outlines what the Budget Committee cut from the budget.

The other presentation, made this year by Hudson School Board member Rich Nolan, highlighted the district’s goals and how the dollars in the budget supported those goals and helped Hudson provide an education for its children.

This year in less than an hour Hudson voters sent the operating budget with a 4 percent increase plus three other warrant articles to the ballot.  The other warrant articles include:

  • $175,000 for the construction of a 3,000 sq. foot storage building at Alvirne High School.
  • $25,000 for an after school tutorial academic assistance plan for Alvirne High School students who are struggling.
  • $34,763 for salary and benefit changes for the 14 nonunion employees.

Denise Rondeau talks in support of Alvirne after-school program.

In Litchfield two warrant articles were sent to the ballot.  The operating budget has a 4.8 percent increase and the new school [see related article] for $22 million were approved by voters.

Litchfield’s school deliberative session got off to a good start with Budget Committee Chrairman Brent Lemire praising the school district for their preparation and budget presentations.  It appeared that some of the discord between the two boards might have dissipated

Litchfield Business Administrator Steve Martin gave first the board’s budget (which is not what has gone to the warrant) and then detailed cuts made by the Budget Committee.  When Martin began his presentation, he discussed methodology, a high level budget summary, the default budget and then began going through the “school board’s budget” rather than the modified approved budget that was going to the ballot.  As in past years, Martin managed to zing the budget committee during his presentation.  This year’s zinger, stated several times, claimed that the Budget Committee had cut so much that after school programming would be cut.  

Finally Lemire took the mic and discounted Martin’s claims.  Lemire pointed out that the budget committee had deliberated very carefully and had deemed that the district had adequate funding.  This finding is partially based on historic spending trends coupled with administration presentations.  "The fact that the Budget Committee identified only $200,000 worth of reductions in a $20 million dollar budget is a testament to the diligent work on the part of both boards," Lemire stated.

Just as in Hudson, major factors impacting the proposed operating budget were highlighted.  In Hudson this was done from the perspective of what the modified approved budget encompassed and in Litchfield it was done from the board’s perspective and then itemized budget cuts were discussed, such a list of cuts was not discussed in Hudson.

Martin said six new stipend positions were proposed before he outlined the following increases.  He noted that these were increases above $10,000 and said that he wasn’t going to talk about increases less than $10,000 that proposed in the school board’s budget.

  • Raises in the teachers’ contract accounted for 42.4 percent or $424,558 of the total budget increase.
  • Current staff approximate net salary and benefit increase, excluding the teacher contract, accounted for $86,286 or 8.52 percent of the increase.
  • Additional School Psychologist had a net increase of $41,878 or 4.18 percent.  Martin explained that there was a corresponding decrease in contracted services.
  • Additional CHS Guidance Counselor (part-time) had an increase of 2.49 percent or $24,904.  Martin said this position was needed because the high school was going to be poorly evaluated in the recently completed accreditation report because there were too few guidance counselors. 
  • Two new SPED para positions are needed at Campbell for a total increase of $34,168 or a 3.41 percent increase.
  • An additional LMS Part time custodian at $16,484 or a 1.65 percent increase.
  • Other new and expanded positions for $26,640 or a 2.66 percent increase.  This turned out not to be the stipend positions that Martin was talking about but increased hours for grounds keepers, summer help, and a part time assistant for Coach K.

After showing charts, Martin outlined 18 separate budget cuts made by the Budget Committee.  Martin pointed out that one of the 18 cuts had actually been a budgeting error that was corrected rather than an actual cut.  Of the 17 actual cuts, 11 of them were less than $10,000.  The $226,071 in budget cuts made by the budget committee were:

  • Reduce SAU staff raises to 3 percent.  This cut $13,923
  • Reduce district wide co-curricular salaries by $12,000.  The Budget Committee did this because not all the money had been spent in the previous year, but Martin contended this would limit after school programming.
  • CHS Athletics Salaries by $5,700.  The explanation was the same for the district wide co-curricular salaries.  Later Martin said that when he said 6 new stipend positions, he was talking about the board’s budget and not what was in the proposed operating budget.  He noted that those positions had actually not been included and explained that he wanted to talk about what the board asked for. 
  • Reduce paraprofessional salaries by 5 percent or $30,000.
  • Health insurance was cut by 3 percent.  Martin explained that new teachers were often single and retiring teachers often carried family coverage.
  • Dental insurance was cut by 3 percent with the same explanation about new versus older teachers and their benefit needs.
  • FICA and Medicate was cut to reflect expected salary levels.
  • LMS / CHS Game Official salaries had been cut by 10 percent.
  • GMS Building Repairs were cut by $37,862.  Martin said that he hadn’t provided backup for the maintenance this year because it had been cut in previous years when backup was provided.
  • District phone repairs cut by $7,000
  • District boiler repairs cut by $5,000
  • Alert Now software price was corrected which resulted in a budget reduction of $2,692. 
  • SPED and Vocational Transportation was cut by $23,741. 
  • CHS Athletic Transportation was cut by $1,000
  • CHS Co-curricular Transportation was cut by $1,500
  • Postage was cut by 10 percent.  After the session a budget committee member said they heard testimony that e-mail and other electronic methods of communication were being used more frequently.
  • Supplies were reduced by five percent
  • Kids Voting & SERESC was cut by $700.

The bottom line was the school board asked for a budget that had increased six percent over the 2007-2008 school year and the budget committee, by cutting $226,071, reduced the school budget to $19,969,921 or an increase of 4.8 percent over last year’s budget.

The tax rate for the proposed modified school operating budget is $10.14 per thousand.  That’s an increase of $1.09 per thousand over the current tax rate.

Martin urged voters to remember that the district had returned one million dollars last year which lowered the tax rate.  He asked that people look at the increase over two years to understand the total impact to the tax rate.

Sample Property Taxes for Litchfield’s School Operating Budget, if it passes:

$300,000 Home - Total School Property Taxes $3,042

$400,000 Home - Total School Property Taxes $4,056

Tax Rate $10.14 per thousand

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No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

by Len Lathrop

Specialty Kitchen building off Route 111.

Do you know Scott Dionne?  Lets review. Hudson born and raised, one of Webb Palmers kids at Alvirne High School.  Started a small business with a hammer and a van in 1978, and then leased space in Hudson.  As his business grew, the employees increased and it was time to expand.  His then- landlord on 5 Christine Drive #F had a lot with an approved site plan off Route 111, at 4 Hudson Park Drive.

As a steel building wasnt what Scott wanted for Specialty Kitchens Inc., and after several meetings with the Hudson Planning Board he was approved to construct a building that he designed after the Hazelton Barn on the former Benson Animal Farm property.  Now an important part of the story, by Scotts report and confirmed by others, to prevent his kitchen display store from becoming a lumberyard type of facility, there was an agreement for no Cash and Carry which turned into a site plan note that states No Retail.  Specialty Kitchen is constructed, the grounds landscaped, and the business moved its roughly 20 employees into the new home using about two-thirds of the building space with space for expanding.

The home building market starts to soften and Scott, to keep his workers busy, frames and sheet rocks the one-third of the building he was not using.  A Hudson couple, Bob and Anita Coco, approached Specialty Kitchens about moving their skate sharpening business into the empty space.  The Hockey Shop moved into the facility in August 2006.

Shortly after a Chamber of Commerce Business after Hours, where many town officials and staff were in attendance, the Town of Hudson issued an infraction notice that the Hockey Shop was retail and Dionne had violated his site plan.  Scott Dionne reports that he had spoken with Hudson Town Planner John Cashell as the Cocos were planning to move in and he was assured by both Cashell and Rob Souza, Hudson code enforcement officer, that this was OK.  After the first letter, Dionne met with Cashell at his town hall office where, Dionne reports, he was told that it was just a technicality and if Cashell received a letter it could be corrected.  The third notice, Dionne was told as he reports, that Cashell told him there was nothing he could do, and he would have to submit a new site plan.

Visiting the Community Development Office, John Cashells first sentence was no good deed goes unpunished, ironically then same phase that Hudson Selectman and longtime Planning Board Member Richard Maddox opened our conversation about Specialty Kitchens with, a week ago.  Cashell confirmed that the action was started after a town official complained after the Chamber of Commerce Open House.  Cashell confirmed that he spoke informally with the Hudson Planning Board but it wanted a formal site plan review as the site had changed and those changes might change impact fees, traffic improvements at the site and even some off-site improvements.

The matter is now in court, costing Dionne and the Hudson taxpayers money to straighten out this technical problem.  Many questions arise about this action, but what do members of the Hudson Planning Board have to say about the situation? Selectman Richard Maddox coined the headline of this article and said the site plan states no retail and that needs to be corrected; it is a site that is over-designed and built for the size of the lot.  Terry Stewart, Planning Board member and former Hudson Selectman, when asked about why Dionne is being, it appears to be, singled out, her response was, Everything should be fair and it is not, what is the missing piece of the puzzle?  There are a lot of other situations around town that Community Development seems to let pass, when those sites present large regulation problems, several she has pointed out to Shawn Sullivan with no action.

Scott Dionne has questions he wants the reader to know:  1)  The hockey shop is an approved business for the town zone. Shawn Sullivan issued a written opinion to that fact — their primary business is sharpening skates.  The town (official) gave a verbal OK.  2) Many other business close by might be outside their site plans; every third Saturday there is a cash-and-carry sale at the T-shirt company behind this site.  There is flea market every Saturday and Sunday in an industrial building just down the street.  3) If traffic is a concern why are all of Hudson buses housed just behind the Specialty Kitchens site and come unto Rt. 111 and make a left twice every school day?  4) If parking is an issue just look at all the businesses within a stones throw that sub and pizza shop, car repair centers, that park all over the green space on and around their buildings.

Now you know more of Scott Dionne than he ever thought you would.

In another area town the voters elect Planning and Zoning members at the March elections. Should Hudson?

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New School is Smaller, but Cost is Up

by Lynne Ober

Once again Litchfield voters will have an opportunity to vote on a new elementary school that will replace Griffin Memorial School [GMS], which was originally built in 1930 and then had additions in 1955, 1958, 1960, 1972, 1978 and 1983.

This year’s proposal is for a 99,353 square foot two story school with a price tag of $22.2 million.  The school will be built on school district owned land adjacent to Litchfield Middle School.  “There are no water issues on this site,” said School Board Chairman Dennis Miller.  “The soils are sandy and site preparation will be easy.”

Once again Miller provided an overview of the school.  Architect Dan Cecil walked voters through the school plan, methodology and thinking for orientation on the site and how the school would meet Litchfield’s current and future needs.

The school will house Pre-Kindergarten through grade 5 elementary students.  Miller explained that this would allow the district to get rid of the portables at Litchfield Middle School.  In addition two LMS interior classrooms are now devoted to fifth graders and these would also be freed up  The school is projected to open with 705 students, but core spaces such as the cafeteria, gym, library will be sized for 1,150 students which is the maximum number students expected when Litchfield is completely built out.

While the school population is smaller, the board will re-purpose some of the larger spaces by carving classroom space out of them.  The architect gave one example.  A music room would be built in a section of the cafeteria and said that it could be easily sound-proofed.  “Then when you need all the space, it will be easy to remove the walls and turn the space back into cafeteria space,” said Cecil.

The district expects to have 85 half-day kindergarten students and has proposed building four kindergarten classrooms.  Miller explained that by using impact fees and state building aid, the construction of these four kindergarten classrooms will be fully funded without tax payer dollars.

The district currently has 37 students in the district’s integrated pre-school program and would expect to have no more than 45 when the school population reaches 1,150.  Plans have been made to accommodate these students.

The total gross project cost is $22,203,340, which Miller explained would be reduced to $14,544,785 excluding interest.  State building aid will pay $6,147,765, state kindergarten aid will be $1,060,577 and impact fees will contribute $450,213.  

The board is proposing a Capital Appreciation Bond which levels payments over the life of the proposed 15 year bond.  Miller characterized this type of bond as being analogous to a “Budget Payment Plan.”  He said it front loads principal payments and back loads interest payments.  Principal payments are made twice a year instead of once.  Because more principal is paid upfront, it accelerates State Building Aid payments while reducing tax rate impact in early years.

Property owners will pay fewer dollars if a 15 year bond is used.  Miller gave examples for both 15 and 20 year bonds.  If the bond length is 15 years, a home valued at $300,000 would pay $132 in the first year and $429 in the second year.  The total taxes paid over 15 years would be $6,345.

If a home is valued at $400,000 the total taxed paid over the life of a 15 year bond would be $8,460.

Miller also talked about the overall operational savings between a new and old building.  He noted that the heating costs would be significantly less because GMS is not well insulated, windows leak and construction methods have improved over the years.  He also said that the school was being built so that it areas could be blocked off, cleaned and utilities turned off at night.  Public areas would still be available but because the rest of the school could be blocked off, there would be less custodial work and no reason to keep the lights burning in the non-public areas.  All of this adds to operational savings.

Although some questions were asked by residents, they was no substantive debate on the new school and the warrant passed as proposed to the March 11 ballot.

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Mice Will Not Play While Cat’s Away

by Bob Futon

The Hudson Police Department will be implementing a new program designed to stop underage drinking parties while parents are on vacation or away for short periods.

“Underage drinking parties are a serious problem,” said Police Chief Richard Gendron as he outlined a new program called KEYS.

“The average age when youth first try alcohol is 11 years for boys and 13 years for girls (and) the average age at which Americans begin drinking regularly is 15.9 years old,” according to Focus AS (Adolescent Services), a Web site who mission “is to provide information and resources to empower individuals to help their teens and heal their families.  Through education, self-awareness, self-help, and personal responsibility, families can rebuild their relationships and reconnect in positive and loving ways.”

Hudson Statistics 2004 2005 2006 2007
Underage Alcohol Related Arrests 48 42 67 73
Underage Drinking Parties 9 6 7 6
Underage DWT Arrests 16 20 35 26

The idea grew when Hudson resident Charlotte Schweiss contacted the Hudson Police Department last summer and asked police to check her home while her children were to be left alone. 

The purpose of KEYS, through the registration of your home with the Hudson Police Department, is to cut down on the number of “parties where underage drinking occurs.”  The KEYS program offers the homeowner peace of mind while on vacation knowing police will validate that parties are not occurring and the children are safe.

In Hudson, underage alcohol related arrests, underage drinking parties, and underage DWI arrests have increased nearly 57 percent since 2004.  During 2007, Hudson police made 115 underage alcohol arrests.

Medicine.Net states, of those who were ever alcohol-dependent, 15 percent appeared to become dependent before age 18, and 47 percent became hooked before 21.  In all, two-thirds became dependent before age 25.

“Our experience has shown often times teenagers left home alone may call a few friends over for company, which may result in uninvited guests who bring alcohol and/or drugs,” Gendron said. 

To participate in the KEYS program, a shift commander will arrange for a date and time to meet with parents and the teens at their home.  Together, they will review the waiver that both the parents and the teen sign.  The parent or homeowner will leave a key to the home with a “trusted neighbor” or relative in case police need to enter the home while the parents are away.  While the parents are on vacation, police officers will make every attempt to ride by the home and look for any evidence of underage drinking.  If the officer has reasonable suspicion, then the officer will knock on the door and ask to speak to the teenager.  If the teenager refuses to cooperate, then the person with the key to the house will be called.

The program will provide Hudson police officers with information where teenagers will be left unsupervised, provide parent/home owner with an instrument to keep a teenager in check and deter or prevent an alcohol-related death or injury.

For more information: 886-6011. 

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