On the Oct. 30 mayoral debate, I was glad to see that there was ample discussion about the future of Keene. Things like sustainability, diversity, workforce development and the passion that each candidate has for this community were evident.
What struck me though was the discussion surrounding the city budget. As a former member of the Keene Board of Education, I took issue with Councilor Greenwald’s claim that the school district should be doing a better job since they have the larger portion of the tax rate.
If you only look at the breakdown, Keene has the following for 2019 property taxes (per $1,000): Municipal $14.81; County $3.97; State Education $2.14; and Local Education $16.68. As you can see, the education portion is indeed higher. What was left out of the conversation was the shift in this rate over the past several years.
Let’s compare these numbers to 2017. Municipal has increased from $14.06 in 2017 to $14.81 in 2019. County has increased from $3.54 to $3.97. When we look at education, both state and local education have decreased, with state education dropping from $2.36 to $2.14 and local education dropping from $17.26 to $16.68.
In 2018, the city of Keene boasted the third highest municipal tax rate, behind Claremont and Berlin. The Keene School district placed 45th among all school districts. Of the 260 municipalities in New Hampshire, only 28 (about 10 percent) have a lower municipal tax rate compared to the education tax rate. However, this does not mean the school district budget has gone down, but instead is focused on finding diversified funding, state programs, and investing in cost savings measures.
While I was on the Keene School District finance committee, we dedicated significant amounts of time to strategic planning, setting goals and holding administration accountable for cost-effective investments. Voters decide the school district budget, and board members are expected to present a budget that voters approve. The city doesn’t have this mechanism, and the only voice voters have in their city budget is the election of councilors.
Every elected official has the enormous responsibility of balancing a budget that doesn’t strain taxpayers, provides a high quality of life for residents/students and supports staff.
Make sure to vote in municipal elections, as it is the only opportunity your voice gets to affect how the city plans its budget.
88 Howard St.