Initiative plans to save tax dollars

MERRIMACK – A year ago, the selectmen and school board agreed to form a committee to look at ways the two boards could cooperate to save taxpayers’ money.

Nothing came of that, but a year later, there’s a movement afoot to get the process rolling again.

Selectman David McCray said Thursday he’ll request a discussion about starting an affordability committee be placed on his board’s agenda either for Nov. 18 or the Dec. 2 meeting, which would be the board’s first meeting following Thanksgiving.

The idea for the committee was never fully pursued when it was first introduced because of “logistics, time and all that,” said Selectmen’s Chairman Dick Hinch.

“I think there’s a lot of merit to it. There’s no reason why it shouldn’t happen,” he said.

Rosemarie Rung, the School Board vice chairman, agreed the affordability initiative should be re-started.

“We’re still excited about the idea,” Rung said. “There hasn’t been a change on the part of the school board” regarding the plan, she said.

The idea for such a committee came about last November after taxpayers were hit hard by a nearly 20 percent increase in property tax bills. School Board Chairman Ken Coleman and Hinch spearheaded the proposal.

At that time, Hinch presented the idea to selectmen that the two boards could work together to find common areas where the town could save money.

“People care about the size of their tax bill not the tax rate,” Hinch said, as reported in the minutes of the board’s Nov. 25, 2003 meeting.

“The idea would be to merge the two governing bodies of the town and the school,” Hinch continued in the meeting minutes. “There has never been a time when these two aspects of the town revenue systems have come together to provide a plan that would make for an affordable tax structure. We are not a poor community and we should be able to afford good services.”

On the school side, the School Board on Nov. 17, 2003, approved a plan to work with selectmen.

At that meeting, Coleman outlined a five-point plan of attack:

– Analyze Merrimack taxes in comparison to other New Hampshire towns that offer similar municipal services.

– Find areas where the town and school district could share services.

– Look at instituting “impact fees,” such as fees developers pay when building new homes.

– Find other sources of revenue, such as fees and other taxes, to offset the burden of property taxes.

– Identify a growth strategy for the town.

It was a good idea then, several members of both boards said Thursday, so it should be a good idea now, too.

The idea initially started to get off the ground, Hinch said, but then came a succession of interruptions: the holidays; the resignation of two key town officials — Community Development Director Jay Minkarah and Town Manager Dean Shankle — and then the municipal elections.

“Ken (Coleman) and I did sit down together at least once over a cup of coffee,” Hinch said.

In fact, he and Coleman had exchanged messages over the past few weeks about getting together again, Hinch said. Coleman couldn’t be reached Thursday for comment.

“So many other things come at you, and the next thing you know it’s a year from now,” McCray said.

McCray said with a new town manager hired, the time might be right for the proposal to resurface.