16 Things Every Citizen Should Know About Town Meeting

Brush up on your town meeting skills!

1. Every Voter Is a Legislator.

Those quaint sayings about town government being a “pure democracy” are true! State law refers to the town meeting as the “legislative body” (RSA 21:47). The town meeting is to the town what the Legislature is to the State, or the Congress is to the United States: the town meeting has all the basic power. There is no higher authority in town. But in order to have the right to participate, you must be a registered voter of the town, and you must attend. If you don’t go, how can you justify blaming anybody but yourself?

2. The Moderator Presides, and Can Do What It Takes to Maintain Order.

The town meeting’s business is regulated by the moderator, and your right to vote is subject to the moderator’s authority to keep order. Voters may not talk without being recognized. If someone keeps on being disruptive after being warned, the moderator can ask a police officer to escort him/her out of the meeting (RSA 40:9).

3. The Voters Can Always Overrule the Moderator by a Simple Majority.

The moderator isn’t a king. S/he is merely a facilitator to enable the voters to take orderly joint actions. It is illegal for the moderator to preside in such a way as to make it impossible to overrule his/her rulings. Therefore, people who say that the moderator “rigs” the meeting are talking through their hats.

Many voters mistakenly believe that state law contains all sorts of complicated parliamentary rules governing town meetings. It doesn’t. All state law says is that the moderator can prescribe rules, but the voters can alter those rules (RSA 40:4). Nobody can pull parliamentary tricks as long as the voters stay alert and remain aware that they can vote, by a simple majority, to change the rules to accomplish what the majority wishes to accomplish.

Some towns, at the beginning of the meeting, adopt some set of rules for convenience, such as Robert’s Rules of Order. In other towns, the moderator just makes rulings as the meeting goes along. Either way is fine. Either way, the only legally-binding rule is that the voters can over­rule the moderator by a simple majority.

Example: Suppose the town begins the meeting by deciding to adopt Robert’s Rules for the duration. And suppose, a little later, someone moves to amend a motion a certain way, which is perfectly proper under Robert’s Rules, and the moderator declares that the amendment is valid. But now suppose it is moved and seconded to overrule the moderator, and the motion carries. Who wins? The voters, of course. Even though the moderator was “right” under Robert’s Rules, the voters are “right” because they are the higher authority when acting by majority vote.

Read the full article here.

The Case Against Full-Day Kindergarten

In a separate post, we covered the question: “If Budgets aren’t Going up Very Fast, Why are Property Taxes Increasing So Much?”  One of the conclusions is that the budget squeeze is bad and getting worse, and that makes this a very bad time to add a new program that will increase our costs every year into the future.

But a larger issue is that full‑day Kindergarten (compared to half‑day) has simply not been proven effective.  There are numerous studies, and the conclusions that they reach are varied.  In a recent paper on full-day Kindergarten, Dr. Jody Underwood states that

“Full-day kindergarten does not seem to offer a benefit over half-day, and in some cases might even be detrimental.”  Some studies indicate increased scores through grade 3, while others show no benefit.  Many of the studies show a leveling off of benefits by 3rd grade.

In a comparison of similar NH school districts with full-day vs. half-day kindergarten, there was little difference in subsequent test scores. (In fact schools with a half-day program actually did slightly better in 3rd grade test scores. See the data below.)

According to this data (provided by the WLC administration), schools with half-day Kindergarten performed 2 to 3 percentage points better in proficiency than schools with half-day Kindergarten.  At best, that’s a statistical tie.   Why would we invest tens of thousands of dollars per year in a statistical tie?  If we want the best value for our education spending, we should instead focus on the initiatives with the highest potential to add value for our students and their families.


If the School Budget isn’t Going up Very Fast, Why are Property Taxes Increasing So Much?

The School Board will be presenting data at Saturday’s meeting that is intended to make the point that school spending has been increasing at a very reasonable rate.  There is a small grain of truth to that; but it ignores some very important realities.

The WLC school budget over the past 10 years has generally been in the $11 million to $12.5 million range.  But it is very deceiving to look at the bottom line budget numbers without understanding the role of student enrollment and state aid and the consequences for local taxpayers.

This year’s proposed budget is approximately $12.3 million.  If we divide that by the current number of students we get a per-student cost of $23,384.  As a point of comparison, that’s about $500 short of the average out-of-state tuition for a 4-year public college in the United States[1].  UNH charges $17,624 per year for in-state students[2].

How did we end up in this situation?

The WLC School District receives about $3900 per student in “aid” from the state for children in grades 1 through 12.  (The number is $1800 for half-day Kindergarten students, and if full-day Kindergarten passes, the number will be $2900 for Kindergarten students.)

As we look at budgets over time, we need to consider the size of the student population we are serving.  On October 1st, 2008, WLC had 731 students.  Today that number is 526 students.  That’s a 28% decline over 10.5 years.  Demographic studies indicate that throughout New England, there is likely to be a continued decline in student enrollments.

While there are some expenses that do not “scale down” as the number of students decreases, there are other expenses that can (and should) be reduced as we serve a significantly smaller population. 

As the student population declines, we receive less aid.  The drop in student population over the past 10 years has resulted in a reduction of almost $800,000 in annual state aid.  It is arguably reasonable to say that “the school Board didn’t cause that”.  But neither did local taxpayers.  So what is to be done?  Continued property tax increases of more than 3 times the rate of inflation are not sustainable.

The Board and the Administration needs to work together on aggressively managing the budget given the reality of declining demographics.  We will be faced with increasing budget pressure and increasingly difficult decisions.  So why would we choose to add a new program at this time that will add costs to our budget every year into the foreseeable futureAdding full-day Kindergarten makes it harder to manage a budget situation that is getting more and more challenging.

[1] https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/pay-for-college/college-costs/college-costs-faqs

[2] https://www.collegetuitioncompare.com/compare/tables/?state=NH&factor=tuition

Upcoming Events – Your Participation is Critical!

There are 3 very important events taking place in the next 10 days.  These 3 events are your opportunity to help decide how much will be spent and whether your property taxes will increase. There is a COMPLETE VOTER GUIDE for each of these 3 events.  We encourage you to download it using the links below, and print a copy to bring with you when you vote.

  1. SCHOOL DISTRICT MEETING will take place at the WLC Middle/High School on Saturday, March 10th at 9 AM.  The voters of the school district will vote on a number of distinct measures called “Warrant Articles”.  This includes a measure that would add a full-day Kindergarten program, which will create an additional ongoing cost for the district.  Click here to download the COMPLETE VOTER GUIDE for the WLC School District Meeting. Print a copy and bring it with you to the school district meeting on Saturday
  2. TOWN ELECTIONS will take place on Tuesday, March 13th.    Both towns will vote on several measures relating to zoning ordinances, and will vote for School Board, School Budget Committee, and Town Officials. In Wilton, polls will be open at Wilton Town Hall from 8 AM until (at least) 7 PMIn Lyndeborough, polls will be open at Citizens’ Hall from 10 AM until (at least) 7 PM.
    1. Click here to download the COMPLETE VOTER GUIDE for the WILTON TOWN ELECTIONS. Print a copy and bring it with you to the polls.
    2. Click here to download the COMPLETE VOTER GUIDE for the LYNDEBOROUGH TOWN ELECTIONS. Print a copy and bring it with you to the polls.
  3. TOWN MEETINGS will take place in on Thursday, March 15th for Wilton and on Saturday, March 17th for Lyndeborough.
    1. The WILTON Town Meeting will take place at the Florence Rideout Elementary School on Thursday, March 15th at 7 PM Click here to download the COMPLETE VOTER GUIDE for the WILTON TOWN MEETING. Print a copy and bring it with you to the meeting.
    2. The LYNDEBOROUGH Town Meeting will take place at the Citizens’ Hall on Saturday, March 17th at 10 AM. Click here to download the COMPLETE VOTER GUIDE for the LYNDEBOROUGH TOWN MEETING. Print a copy and bring it with you to the meeting.

Stay Tuned – Complete Voter Guides Coming Soon

The Wilton-Lyndeborough Taxpayers are working on complete voter guides, which will be posted here soon.  Due to the delay in receiving warrant articles for both Wilton and Lyndeborough, we are still working on a final version of the complete voter guide, which will cover all issues.  Come back soon to download the voter guide.  Or subscribe to our e-mail list and we’ll let you know when it’s been posted!

WLC Spends about $23,000 per Student

The proposed WLC School District budget for 2017-2018 is $12,344,685.  In addition, there are warrant articles for modest increases to support staff pay, plus a $60,000 contribution to the capital reserve fund.  Here is the math:

Proposed Budget $12,344,685
CBA for Support Staff $6,575
Contribution to Capital Reserve $60,000
Number of students 526
AMOUNT PER STUDENT  $                      23,595

It’s worth noting that the State of NH also tracks a number called “Cost per Pupil”, which appears to be much lower.  But the state number excludes certain expenses, such as transportation, tuition, and debt service.  Presumably they believe that this provides an easier “apples to apples” comparison of operating expenses.  From the state’s website:

Cost per Pupil is based on current expenditures as reported on each school district’s Annual Financial Report (DOE-25). Cost per pupil represents current expenditures less tuition and transportation costs. Any food service revenue is deducted from current expenditures before dividing by ADM in attendance. Capital and debt service are not current expenditures and are not included. (SOURCE: https://www.education.nh.gov/data/financial.htm)

Whichever way we look at it, WLC spends considerably more than the state average when it comes to cost per pupil.  If we use the official state numbers from 2016-2017, WLC’s cost per pupil is 19.2% above the state average.  If we look at all-in numbers (including transportation, tuition, and debt service) WLC is even higher.

Town & School District Meetings

If you’re interested in reducing property taxes in your town, there are several key events that you need to be aware of (and participate in!)  These typically happen in early- to mid-March.  They are:

  • Town/School Elections
  • Town Meeting
  • School District Meeting
  1. The Town/School Elections are like any other election insofar as registered voters come to the polling place (e.g. town hall) and vote on candidates for Selectman, School Board, Planning Board, School Budget Committee, etc.  Those town officials, in turn, have considerable discretion in how money is spent.
  2. Town Meeting is where spending is decided and local laws are adopted or repealed via “warrant articles”.  A warrant article is a proposed law or spending initiative that typically needs to pass by a majority vote of the town’s registered voters who are attending the meetingIf you don’t attend the meeting, you will have no voice in the spending decisions that affect your property taxes!  The proposed warrant articles are determined by the Board of Selectmen.  There is also a way for citizens to add a warrant article to the Town Meeting agenda “by petition”.  Town meeting is held once a year in March, and usually lasts for several hours.  There is also a “snow date” scheduled, so that the meeting can be held on the alternate date in the event of inclement weather.
  3. School District Meeting is similar to town meeting, but in our case, it is a joint meeting of registered voters in Wilton and Lyndeborough.  Voters make decisions on a series of warrant articles that are drafted by the School Board.  Just as in the case of the Town Meeting, if you don’t attend, you will have no voice in the spending decisions that affect your property taxes!

Stay tuned and watch this blog for more information on the key issues and candidates coming up this year.

If you’re interested in getting involved or receiving regular updates, please send us an e-mail.