Despite a potential deficit in the school budget for fiscal 2014, revenue from the town's wind turbine might be used to help carry out the town's master plan.
Although nothing has been decided, the allocation of the money, which is expected to be between $160,000 and $220,000 annually, was discussed at a meeting on Tuesday night.
Selectmen said that rather than putting the money into the town’s operating budget, the unexpected revenue source would be best spent if they put it to the master plan.
The master plan, which town officials are still devising, seeks to renovate the Gates Intermediate School into a Town Hall, and would build a new school on the site of the current Town Hall.
The project would mean a new space for seniors and other town departments, which could go in the renovated Gates building.
The price for that project and what it would entail have yet to be discussed, but most likely would require a property tax override.
“If the master plan passed, this would go a long way to lowering the override number and getting an improvement for the whole town,” Selectman Tony Vegnani said. “If not, it will be an extra revenue source and go through the formulas we use [to split the money between the school and the town].”
Selectmen Chairman Joseph Norton agreed that putting the money toward a master plan would enable residents to see the tangible effects of this revenue, effects they wouldn’t see if the money were to be used for general town expenses.
“The revenue should benefit the entire town in some way. [The residents] are the ones that drive by [the turbine], see it, if there are negatives, they put up with it,” Norton said. “We all need additional revenue for our operating budget, but Town Hall would be a benefit to all people, a new junior high would be a giant asset to the town.
"I’m leaning towards…until we determine one way or another that the master plan is or isn’t going to be done, to put it into a fund for that capital project.”
School Committee members in the audience objected to the potential allocation of the money to a capital plan, rather than spending it now.
“From the school point of view, things are tight. We haven’t even come back to where we want it to be,” said School Committee member Bill Johnston.
Additionally, the $2.2 million override passed in 2011 will only cover the total school budget up through fiscal 2013, which ends next June 30. As a result, there will be a gap of over $100,000 for fiscal 2014.
“We were counting on it, and doing our forecasting with these numbers in our budget,” Johnston said. “I hear what you’re saying, with the master plan, but before we take it out of operating… it’s real money to our operating budget that we would use.”
Selectmen stressed that the town still needed to approve a master plan, and that the details of the plan would be figured out in the next 18 months.
Regardless, Vegnani pushed that even if the money didn’t go directly to the schools now, the schools would get a substantial benefit.
“The school [department] gets a new middle school. It will fund a great facility, if it gets to that point. And if not, it should be split [now],” Vegnani said.
Selectmen took no action on the funding and suggested to keep the money in a revolving fund. That fund would roll over from fiscal year to fiscal year until it is appropriated, officials said.