Town Meeting rejects Algonquin compromise

by susan on April 16, 2009

Town Meeting played nice with Northborough on Monday night when it came to budget assessments, but when the topic of debt assessments came up on Tuesday night, voters decided it was time for some tough love.

There were two articles on the warrant this year that talked about assessments. The first had to do with how the regional school budget would be divided between the towns. On that topic Town Meeting decided to pay a higher percentage next year than specified in the regional agreement between the towns — to the tune of an extra $223K.

The second article was all about debt. The question was how to split mortgage payments for the next 17 years. The regional agreement that has been in place between the town for decades says payments should be divided based on enrollment. But, the town of Northborough argues that state laws (Chapter 70B) says socio-economic factors should come into play.

It’s a debate that has been raging for years. In an attempt to resolve it, the regional school committee proposed a compromise: calculate how much each town would may under the two methods and split the difference. Under the compromise, Southborough would pay $40K more per year for the next 17 years and Northborough would pay $40K less.

It’s a compromise that didn’t sit well with town officials or voters.

Selectman Bill Boland said the board was “vehemently opposed” to the compromise. Voters agreed, and shot down the article that would have amended the wording of the regional agreement to reflect the compromise.

Some at town meeting objected to Northborough’s power play for more money. Others worried amending the regional agreement, which was approved in good faith by both towns, would set a dangerous precedent.

Southborough’s rejection of the amendment means the ball is back in the regional school committee’s court to figure out what to do. Other regional school districts like Dover-Sherborn are going through a similar conflict. Their disagreement has gone to court. It’s possible our could too.

Keep reading for some quotes from the town meeting debate (there are some good ones).

“The compromise is the best alternative to avoid possible litigation fees at significant cost to both towns and to the region.” —Superintendent Charles Gobron

“Northborough is trying to take advantage of Southborough’s willingness to fund Algonquin. They know we fund our schools well and they’re trying to stick it to us. They’re trying to steal your money, your hard-earned dollars. I am not willing to compromise on this.” —Selectman Bill Boland

“As a point of clarification, this is not an anti-Algonquin position.” —Selectman Sal Giorlandino

“Last night, we had to do the right thing for the kids. This is something that doesn’t need to be decided immediately. I personally think we have the opportunity to vote this warrant article down and send a message back to Northborough that we do expect that a deal is a deal.” —Regional School Committee member Paul Butka

“If we vote to support (this article), it would indicate we don’t have faith in the regional agreement. It would weaken our position in any future court cases.” —Pine Hill Road resident

1 Kelly Roney April 23, 2009 at 10:39 AM

When we as a town were deciding whether to rebuild Algonquin, Northborough objected that the regional agreement was unfair, since it allocated capital costs based on when they were incurred. Since Southborough was growing faster, that would have saddled Northborough with a disproportionate share of the costs over the life of the debt. Southborough honorably agreed to change the regional agreement to allocate debt service each year based on student population, which is fair.

Our reward since has been to have Northborough town officials put their hands in our pockets at every opportunity:
– Police and fire call charges (which don’t actually incur any significant additional cost to the town)
– Refusal to waive the inspection fee (which they do for all their own schools)
– This year’s operating budget
– Their attempt to get more money in SBA repayment than the regional agreement calls for

Obviously, quite a bit more tough love is called for!

2 susan April 23, 2009 at 9:36 PM

Kelly – That’s some interesting history. Thanks for the comment.

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