To the editor:
The Little Compton Community First (LCCF) organization applauds the Little Compton School Committee in its decision to approve the budget submitted by Schools Superintendent Kathryn Crowley. The budget is a fair projection of academic and operational requirements as we move into the planned building renovation. While requesting a modest budget increase, Ms. Crowley’s budget maintains school operations at existing staff levels while also helping to fund additional costs incurred as a result of the building renovation.
The proposed budget requests an additional $93,000 from the town compared to last-year’s expenditures. In a town where the mill rate is only $5.38 per $1,000 of assessed property value (second-lowest in the state), this would require the mill rate to be increased to $5.43 per $1,000. For perspective – this would result in an increase of approximately $25 on the annual property tax bill for an owner with $300,000 to $500,000 in property value – a modest increase to help support our children and the future of our community.
For several years, the Wilbur-McMahon Schools and the School Committee have collaborated closely to find efficiencies in school operations and maintain level funding (similar to other departments in the Town of Little Compton). While level funding is an admirable goal in difficult economic times, we must be careful that it does not become the overriding goal. Dedicated attention must be paid to intelligent public expenditures. An overzealous commitment to “fiscal conservancy” can actually manifest itself as “fiscal irresponsibility” when necessary program funding is not properly anticipated and budgeted accordingly.
In a town with such an incredibly low property tax rate and a high overall inventory of taxable property, small changes in our mill rate can provide substantial additional revenue for town programs without forcing people into bankruptcy or foreclosure because of runaway property tax bills. Additionally, we have tax exemption programs in place to help fixed income residents who might be adversely impacted by tax increases. By all accounts these exemptions are enacted properly and in a town of 3,600 year-round residents, about 40 people utilize the low-income exemptions. Clearly, residents of Little Compton are not being forced to relocate because “the beast” is being over-fed with excessive property taxes.
Looking forward, demographic projections suggest that our school enrollment is decreasing. The hasty, knee-jerk reaction to this demographic trend would be to lay off teachers and minimize staffing to maintain pace with the enrollment numbers. Such a move would be a careless attempt to reduce a school budget without fully understanding the causes of this reduction in enrollment or the impacts that drastic staffing moves and reduced budgets may have on the long-term return on investment to the community, not to mention how this would adversely affect the quality of education during the very important and formative early years. After spending over $10 million to renovate our school, let’s not then hastily choose to decrease its operating budget without intelligently assessing the impacts that staffing or budget cuts may have on its operations.
As we head toward the 2013 Town Financial Meeting, we hope that the town Budget Committee, the Town Council, and the residents of Little Compton will agree that the proposed school budget is a reasonable request that should be approved with an eye toward the future challenges that our town must face and developing a strategy of budgeting that truly gets the most for our tax dollars while developing a sustainable, thriving community.
On behalf of Little Compton Community First