Concerns on tax increases expressed at meeting
By Michael Turton
Three residents will vie for two seats on the Haldane School Board in the May 21 election that will also see local voters decide the fate of the board’s proposed spending plan for 2013-14. Superintendent of Schools Mark Villanti announced the candidates as part of his monthly report at the Tuesday, April 23, board meeting. Petitions required of those running for trustee had to be submitted by close of business on April 22.
Gillian Thorpe, who currently serves as School Board vice president, will bid for re-election, while Jennifer Daly and Julisa Rincon Tomizawa are both newcomers. Thorpe had previously indicated she would not seek another term but recently reversed her decision. The Haldane PTA is planning a “meet the candidates night,” tentatively scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday, May 13, in the Haldane music room.
After several months of what were often tense gatherings as trustees and administration wrestled with next year’s budget, Tuesday’s meeting was rather routine. The only contentious moments came at the end of the meeting, when local resident Joe Vitanza questioned the board regarding the proposed budget, in particular the tax cap mandated by the state. Vitanza asked if the proposed budget was within “the 2 percent tax cap” which set off a number of responses from trustees explaining that the tax cap is not actually 2 percent.
“It’s a tax cap, but it’s formula-based, and it’s not 2 percent,” Thorpe said.
School Board President Michael Junjulas explained that in Haldane’s case, the cap on the tax levy is actually 3.55 percent but that the tax levy rate will not be known until August when new property assessment data is received. “Then how can you vote?” Vitanza asked.
“Because it’s a vote on the spending plan,” Junjulas replied. When voters say “yes” or “no” on May 21, it is only regarding total proposed spending. The complete budget, including all expenditures and matching revenues, is not formulated until August. Villanti said that the current estimate of the tax levy rate increase is in a range between 2.4 and 2.8 percent (not exactly 2 percent because of exemptions). Total spending proposed for 2013-14 is $22,345,120, a budget-to-budget increase of 1.9 percent over the current year.
“When is enough enough? I don’t mind paying my fair share. I’m just tired of taxes going up,” Litanza said. “It’s the same every year. Taxes go up for the village, the town, the county, the state, schools. It’s just getting out of hand.”
Villanti made his oft-repeated comment that Haldane has lost more than $2 million in state aid over the past five years. Litanza did give trustees and administration credit for having “done a good job over the years” at controlling costs. Junjulas pointed out that a PTA-led letter-writing campaign had helped Haldane receive more state aid than had been expected for the upcoming budget. “Writing letters makes a difference, Joe. You have to write those letters,” Junjulas said.
The spending plan is posted on the Haldane website. A narrative description to explain components of the spending plan will be added on April 30. PTA President Laura Danilov said that members of that organization will be “on the blacktop” at Haldane from 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Friday, April 26, to urge parents to support the proposed budget.
BOCES vote, field improvements, Earth Day
Trustees voted unanimously to approve the proposed 2013-14 BOCES budget of $8,611,600. They also voted unanimously for Joan Austin of Briarcliff Manor and Tina Mackay of Putnam Valley to serve as BOCES board members.
The New York State Education Department has approved plans for improvements to the main athletic field, auditorium and locker rooms. Villanti said that a request for proposals will be drafted within about two weeks. He estimated that construction would likely begin in June.
Earth Day will be recognized at Haldane in an evening program on May 3 from 6 to 8 p.m. Festivities will include a tour of the nature trail, garden and recently upgraded greenhouse. Monolith Solar Inc., the company that will be installing solar panels to generate electricity on campus, will provide one of several environmental displays. Haldane will team up with ConEd Solutions to exhibit early results of the Energy Performance Contract, through which the school district is saving on electrical, heating and cooling costs by upgrading its infrastructure.
Car show returns, scholar athletes & volunteers praised
Haldane’s second annual Car Show returns to campus on Sunday, May 19. Vehicle owners can register their new or old cars or trucks from 8 a.m. until noon. Cars will be on public display from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. The event is a fundraiser for the Haldane Athletic Booster Club.
Director of Athletics Tom Cunningham reported that 15 of Haldane’s 17 varsity teams have earned Scholar Athlete Team Awards. He also congratulated senior Lauren Etta, who recently accepted a volleyball scholarship at Tulane University, and Anthony Virgadamo, for winning the Putnam County Adult Volunteer Award. Virgadamo has coached basketball and baseball for nine and seven years respectively. The annual alumni baseball game will be played at Mayor’s Park on April 27 at 1 p.m.
High School Principal Brian Alm praised Haldane student Lucy Austin, who finished second in New York state in a recent creative-writing competition.
Villanti will make a recommendation to hire a new head cook and cafeteria manager at the May board meeting. Seven candidates were interviewed before the field was recently narrowed to three. “We were very impressed with all three finalists,” he said. Trustee Jon Champlin, who served on the selection committee, said that the finalists were quite surprised when each was presented with potatoes, carrots and onions and then asked by the committee to “wow us.” He said, “They did a heck of a lot better than I would have. They handled it very well.”