Glocester officials puzzled, dismayed by low voter turnout for school budget

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GLOCESTER – Town Council members said they were both puzzled and concerned by the lack of voters attending the recent regional schools financial meeting at which the lion’s share of the town’s budget was decided by a relative handful of voters.

“Three quarters of our entire budget, 45 people,” said Town Council Vice President Stephen Arnold at their recent meeting.

A total of 56 residents attended. Of that number 45 from Glocester and 11 from Foster voted on the regional school’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year, with 45 to 11 in favor. Those attending included poll workers, committee members and local police, who were residents.

There are 8,797 registered voters in Glocester and 3,885 registered voters in Foster.

“What’s concerning about that is A.: Nobody showed up to vote on millions of dollars, but, secondly, is you don’t show up, the budget can change,” said Councilor Walter Steere. “Somebody could say, ‘I want to cut a half million dollars.’ They could add a half million dollars. And there’s nobody there to ask questions.”

Steere added that the council was disappointed to see the turnout. He said they actually caught $21,700, which was listed in the proposed budget to purchase wood chips, chips that were no longer needed since both wood chip fueled boilers were no longer operational and were not slated to be repaired. The money was subsequently moved to capital funds. The overall budget total remained the same.

“The other thing I was concerned about too, is they used $150,000 in fund balance towards operations, which is a terrible thing,” he said.

Those are the types of things residents should to be aware of, explained Steere. He noted that once the regional budget is set and approved, it affects the town’s budget as well. Since there is a 4 percent cap on increasing taxes, the town is limited on how much the total budget can raise. By state law, the tax levy can only be raised 4 percent overall.

“We only have so much money to work with,” Steere said.

Local funding for the upcoming year for regional schools totals $17,749,923 with a 2.76 percent increase of $477,532. Foster has an increase of .73 percent, or $41,582, while Glocester will bear a 3.76 percent increase of $435,949. An increase in state aid of $81,913 is expected for a total of $5,672,596.

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