Warren, Bristol school tax plan a 'couple of years away'

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The chairman of the Bristol Town Council said a Warren plan to give the local school district the power to tax could be viable, but could also be seen as a "shot across the bow" in the ongoing effort to fund schools.

The plan, promoted by Warren Town Council Chris Stanley, is to give the Bristol Warren Regional School District the power to levy and collect taxes to fund the district's operations. He sees it as a more equitable arrangement than the current one, which gives the power to set a budget every year to a Joint Finance Committee made up of six Bristol representatives and three Warren representatives.

"It's not the end all, cure all," Mr. Marshall said of Mr. Stanley's plan. "This would take legislative actions, town council resolutions. It would be a couple of years away and that's not a guarantee."

However, he said, "It's a reasonable option. I also think it's a shot across the bow to make people think. The school committee that has its fingers on the pulse better than we do should have the ability to answer to the financing of the school department.

Mr. Stanley's plan, delivered recently to the JFC, would do away with that legislatively-created board and put funding squarely in the hands of the school department. Mr. Stanley said one of the current inequities in the system is that Bristol and Warren's tax bases are dramatically different, as are their tax rates. Warren is the poorer of the two, so when it comes time to pay the amount decreed by the Joint Finance Committee, he said, "it hurts us more."

Under his plan, the district would presumably come up with new, normalized valuations for all property in Bristol and Warren, and would use that to determine a budget and corresponding tax bill. The resulting bills, sent to residents across the district, would ensure that everyone pays the same, regardless of the town in which they live.

"When we sat around and talked about this, what kept coming up is that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line," Mr. Stanley said. "This simplifies everything. Now you don't have town pitted against town; you have one cohesive district."

Currently, the number approved by the JFC must be approved by Warren voters at Financial Town Meeting, and in Bristol at the town's yearly budget hearing. If the school district was given the power to tax, Mr. Stanley said he envisions a new, district-wide financial meeting, so voters from each town, together, can vote each budget up or down.

He said he's been encouraged by Bristol officials' response to the plan.

"The things we're talking about are simple fixes that with changes to the enabling legislation, we could easily accomplish," Mr. Stanley said. "Nobody wants to pay more, that's key. We're so small (in Warren) that (school funding issues) bit us a bit sooner than it's going to bite" Bristol. "But they can see that it will eventually bite them. Maybe we can get a leash on this."

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A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.