Joint Legislative Committee Discuss State Bills of Town, School Interest

by John Seidenberg
DERRY – Members of the Derry Town Council and School Board met jointly with the town’s legislative delegation in Concord to monitor the status of bills with local impact. Council Chairman Jim Morgan was also named to lead the Joint Legislative Committee for the next year at the March 24 meeting.

One of the measures reviewed was HB 106, known as the solar 5 megawatts bill. It establishes procedures for municipal host generators of electrical energy.

When asked about the bill by Morgan, State Rep. David Milz (NH 6) said he hadn’t seen the final version and didn’t know yet if he would support it.

Rep. David Love, a co-sponsor, told the committee the hang-up has been on group metering and costs being born by those who can¹t afford them.

He pointed to the Senate version, SB 109, which makes an exemption under net energy metering for group net metered facilities that generate electricity to offset electrical requirements for subdivision customers. These customers can be a city, town, county, school, or other specific entity.

Morgan said municipalities would like to work on language that could affect anticipated savings to towns along with school boards taking advantage of the bill’s provisions. He reminded legislators time is of the essence in meeting the goal of net zero compliance by 2025 on cost effective energy use by municipalities.

District 3 Councilor Neil Wetherbee added the council understands the issue over net metering but wants to focus on municipalities and schools to meet the legislation¹s intent to help taxpayers.

Morgan noted the town could build a facility at the transfer station or partner with someone who could use the tax advantages as a private entity.

SB 116 on the construction of the new exit 4A on I-93 between Derry and Londonderry passed the Senate. The NH Department of Transportation is expected to move on this long awaited project, said State Sen. Regina Birdsell.

She urged Derry to closely follow what happens particularly in relation to the 10-year plan for the state when it is next reordered.

Milz who sits on the public works and highways committee said DOT is working on the money and the entire project may be less than a year behind.

Both Derry and Londonderry are only responsible for $5 million of the cost, Birdsell said. DOT has now been approached about naming rights for the exit.

SB 87 pertaining to water wielding would allow Derry to take funds it raises from wielding water to Windham and Salem for servicing municipal water sources: 50% of revenue is moved to the water fund while another half goes to town economic development.

This also is an important revenue source for infrastructure changes and sewer projects, Morgan said. The bill passed the Senate and is in committee in the House.

SB 82, which the Senate also approved and remains before the House, addresses kindergarten reimbursement. The measure would bring approximately $510,000 to Derry schools, said School Board Chair Erika Cohen. It removes a lag year in state reimbursement for full-day kindergarten.

Another school-related proposal, SB 135, sets which average daily membership in attendance (ADMA) rate will be used to calculate adequate education costs.

Under the bill, the commissioner of education would compare the ADMA of the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years and use the greater enrollment to calculate FY 2022 education grants. It passed the Senate and is before the House.

With the new federal rule everyone can have free lunch, Cohen pointed out, families are not signing up for free and reduced lunch. “So the numbers we have no longer reflect our true need in town.”

For future projects, the School Board is following HB 594 for school building aid to allocate town needs.

SB 130, the school voucher bill, represents a difficult program for public schools because of uncertainty over financing and downshifting through having greater retirement costs, Cohen emphasized.

In ordinary times Derry would have around 100 home school students that might not affect the number of students but would pose a budget number that would be hard to make up, she said.

If the schools lost $400,000 due to vouchers, that is the equivalent of 5 teachers.

The meeting discussion also turned to other funding issues and the state’s retirement system.

Morgan noted that he hears from legislators that the state has no-say in local government contracting. With the state mandating more local funding, he said, downshifting costs means more of the burden falls on property taxpayers.

While the retirement system is the state’s, it originally was designed as an incentive to get municipalities involved, Birdsell said. It was not intended to be half paid by the state. The system is now about $6 billion in the hole.

Rep. Stephen Pearson disputed that the state’s cost of living adjustment (COLA) added substantially to the problem. The 2019 COLA did not go to anyone with a six-figure salary. It was intended for those making $50,000 or less.

Birdsell said 5.5 percent on average is being paid out. Those making $100,000 did receive a COLA but only on the first $30,000, she added.

Derry has little commercial development and has to rely on property taxes, and the equalized value per pupil defines much of that, Cohen said.

On a school funding bill that was retained in committee, Rep. Erica Layon noted HB 608 was designed to return money to property poor towns with a much lower equalized valuation per student. Despite increasing funding, she said, Derry was poised to lose $1.2 million based on this equation.

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