Southampton TM votes down town’s portion of Hampshire Regional school budget


Staff Writer

Published: 05-14-2023 4:38 PM

SOUTHAMPTON — Residents who question the town’s portion of Hampshire Regional School District’s budget succeeded in convincing a majority of voters at last week’s annual Town Meeting to vote down that section of the $20 million annual operating budget for fiscal 2024.

Select Board members John Lumbra urged residents at the meeting to reject the school budget. In reviewing the regional school’s budget and the excess and deficiencies account, which he equated to the town’s free cash account, Lumbra challenged why there was such a large amount of money from Southampton taxpayers that was just “sitting there” when the town was struggling to fund other services.

“Voting this down does not mean the Hampshire Regional budget will fail because two communities will have to do it,” Lumbra said. “If we are successful in voting it down, I would ask that the elected representatives in Southampton that serve at Hampshire Regional go back to the table and go through the budget, line by line, and determine how over a period of 10 years there’s been a $6 million surplus and we’re struggling to fund the ambulance service.”

Fellow Select Board member Maureen “Reeny” Groden echoed Lumbra’s sentiment to vote down the town’s portion of the regional school’s budget, adding that the approval would cut the nurse leader position by $10,000 and make the position a primary substitute for all of the nurses.

“This particular position helped us dramatically COVID-19,” Groden said. “I’m completely against this decision.”

Kim Schott, chairperson of Hampshire Regional School Committee, lobbied for voters to approve the budget, saying that next year’s budget is driven by increases in non-discretionary costs, including transportation, health insurance, special education, fuel and electricity.

“Because of those things that are outside of our control, we did cut costs in areas within our control to reduce the overall increase in the budget,” said Schott. “We believe that the budget that we have presented represents the actual needs of the school in fiscal year 2024.”

The district’s new business manager also tried to clarify some of the specifics described by Lumbra, but ultimately, residents voted the budget down in a 80-65 vote.

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The town’s Finance Committee was not asked to weigh in on the question, nor did the committee provide recommendations for this year’s warrant because the town’s finances were not closed, posted or verified in time for members to review before the May 9 Town Meeting, according to Vicki Leigh Moro, chairperson of the committee.

Aside from the regional school’s line item, next year’s budget — which is approximately $800,000 more than fiscal year 2023 — passed without any discussion.

Other measures

All but two of the 33 warrant articles were approved by the 176 registered voters in attendance, according to Town Clerk Luci Dalton.

Article 22, which prompted the town to create a new special purpose stabilization fund called the Opioid Settlement Stabilization Fund, did not pass. The account was slated to be used in relation to the opioid-litigation settlement documents.

Town Administrator Ed Gibson explained that the Select Board has voted to accept some opioid settlement funds, and he advised the town to have a dedicated account to put that money in. Future Town Meetings would decide how to spend that money on specific measures related to substance use.

Moro suggested voting the article down. She said the governor has put forward a supplemental budget that includes legislation from the Division of Local Services to let the Bureau of Accounts Director create special revenue funds purposely for these types of issues.

“In my personal opinion, I would hold off until that legislation is passed, that way you don’t have to wait for free cash to be certified. And if it’s not certified on time, and it’s May — like it was this year — you’re waiting a whole year before you put those monies in that you can actually spend them.”

Residents voted the measure down, 60-18.

Articles that passed included $10,000 for a code update to the Town Hall’s elevator, which needs to be done before an annual elevator inspection in August; establishment of a municipal lighting plant; transferring $16,672 from the capital stabilization fund to Norris Elementary School’s capital account to fund the purchase and installation of lockers; and the transfer of $73,000 from the town’s capital stabilization fund to the police capital account to purchase a Ford F-150 or equivalent pick-up truck to be equipped as a cruiser, replacing an existing cruiser.

Residents also approved transferring approximately $241,000 in Community Preservation Committee funding to the Park Commission to be used to construct a fully accessible playground, which will be named in honor of the late Madeline “Maddie” Schmidt, who died to a rare pediatric cancer in December. She was 8 years old.

The playground is proposed to be accessible to wheelchair users and will comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Currently, the town does not have any playgrounds that are accessible to those who use wheelchairs.

Emily Thurlow can be reached at]]>