By John Toole
---- — WINDHAM — The town has the state’s newest taxpayer group.
Rising school spending and a $31 million middle school plan are driving formation of the Windham Taxpayers Coalition.
Founders include Rep. Mary Griffin, former Rep. Rick Okerman, Salem business owner Phil Messina and Ken Eyring, one of the leaders of the Windham-based Southern New Hampshire 9.12 liberty organization.
“The Windham Taxpayers Coalition has been formed to act as a citizens’ oversight group that will monitor the spending of Windham’s tax dollars,” the group said in announcing its formation this week.
The coalition said it intends to study local issues that have high tax consquences and work with elected officials toward cost-effective solutions.
Key among issues concerning the group now is the proposed middle school.
“There is quite a bit of confusion regarding the needs, costs and benefits of building a new seventh/eighth grade school,” Griffin said. “This is a critical decision that will have a substantial impact on all Windham residents.”
The project comes with other school expenses increasing.
Eyring estimates school spending has more than tripled to nearly $50 million over the past dozen years.
“That’s a significant increase,” he said.
Coalition organizers don’t think it’s too late to make a difference this Town Meeting season, even with town and school deliberative sessions next week.
“Our mission is to educate the voters on the facts surrounding town and school spending, so they can cast a more informed vote in March,” Eyring said.
But Eyring wants to see the coalition make a difference over the long haul, not just this year.
“The success of this group isn’t just about the March election of 2013,” Eyring said. “It’s to get engaged and make people’s voices heard.”
There are some members in addition to the four founders, Eyring said. he said there are “20 to 25” members.
The coalition intends to be respectful and non-adversarial in working with officials to get clarity about issues, he said.
“We believe the people we’ve elected are public servants, who are stewards of our tax dollars,” Eyring said.
For Messina, it’s not about swaying voters one way or another, but getting them information to make good decisions.
“People are not getting enough information when it comes to making big financial decisions,” Messina said.
The group hasn’t yet chosen a chairman. The coalition is making plans for Griffin to host a show about tax issues on Windham cable-access television.
“She gives us instant credibility,” Eyring said. “She is fair-minded and well respected.”
People who want to get involved in the coalition can email info@WindhamTaxpayers.com or visit WindhamTaxpayers.com.