WESTMINSTER -- The Westminster tax rate is expected to jump nearly 25 cents this year as the result of a drop in equalized pupils and a spike in education spending.
The tax rate will likely go up 24.25 cents, from 1.0642 to 1.3067, though Westminster School Board Chairman Dan Axtell said nothing is set in stone at this point because there is still legislative discussion about what the state's base tax rate will be. Chris Kibbe, the superintendent of schools for the Windham Northeast Supervisory Union, said the numbers will likely not be finalized until shortly before Town Meeting Day.
Axtell said the decrease in equalized pupils was unexpected and there was also a decline in enrollment.
Vermont Education Finance Manager Brad James told the Reformer education spending in the town is expected to increase $560,000 (from $3.92 to $4.48 million) in FY2015, though he was not sure what causes this specific increase. He explained education spending is the product of an overall budget with oversetting revenues subtracted and is what makes a property tax rate to go up or down.
"The budget I see is $5,228,040. But the budget doesn't matter. It's not the budget that drives the tax rate," he said. "It's education spending."
Kibbe said James' figure is correct, though it accounts for a $172,636 deficit that must be made up. Kibbe said the budget that will be voted on is $5,055,404, which Kibbe said is $80,000 lower than last year. He said town residents will vote at Town Meeting, which in Westminster is set for Saturday, March 1.
Axtell said the deficit is the result of having to pay off expenses from the previous fiscal year. He said it has accrued over the past few years and was caused by things not budgeted for, such as unanticipated special educations students and seventh- and eighth-graders and settling the teachers' dispute in April 2012.
James also said Westminster's revenues -- which can include federal funds, surpluses from previous years and state aid in form of transportation and special education money -- have taken a significant hit, which affects education spending. Axtell said that hit comes from a lack of revenue generated by the state sales and gasoline taxes.
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