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Voters must decide whether to override cap
The Garrison school board on Wednesday (April 6) unanimously adopted a proposed budget that includes a 10 percent tax increase, well above the state-mandated cap of 2.2 percent. On May 17, voters will decide whether to approve the budget and “override” the cap, which requires 60 percent of the vote.
Superintendent Carl Albano said the district needs the increase to fund $12.36 million in spending for 2022-23, an increase of 6 percent from this year. The 2021-22 budget, which was below the cap, was approved in May by a 185-61 vote.
The board adopted the budget by a vote of 6-0. Madalyn Julian, the sole trustee not present at the meeting, expressed support for the budget in a message read by Board President Sarah Tormey.
“There is no magic pill that that will save the situation and prevent us from making tough choices,” said Trustee Kent Schacht. “Without this override, we’re going to have to fundamentally change the educational experience of the school.”
“The stakes are high,” Albano told the board and about 50 members of the public who attended the meeting in the school gym.
Without the increase, Albano said, the district — which has 211 students from kindergarten through eighth grade and projects the same for next year — will need to cut programs and possibly limit the choice of high schools for its eighth graders. Garrison pays tuition to Haldane in Cold Spring or O’Neill in Highland Falls; it has 59 high school students this year and projects that will grow to 87 by 2024-25.
If the override fails on May 17, the board can submit the same or a revised version of the budget for voter approval on June 21. The district could also adopt a contingency budget with no tax increase. Joe Jimick, the district business administrator, said a contingency budget would require $1 million in cuts to avoid depleting the district’s reserves.
About 10 members of the public spoke at the meeting, most expressing support for the override.
“Without this override, our kids, our community, our school will suffer,” said Ned Rauch, president of the Garrison School PTA. Amy Kuchara, president of the Garrison Teachers Association, also spoke in support.
The lone dissenter heard at the meeting was former Putnam County Legislator Barbara Scuccimarra, who urged the board to consider a 5 percent increase. “My concern is for the seniors in this community that want to stay in their homes and who are on a fixed income,” she said.
Even if the district raised taxes to the 2.2 percent cap, there would be a $1.3 million gap under the proposed budget, said Jimick. About 42 percent of the spending is driven by increases largely outside of district control, he said, such as health insurance, transportation and the tuition paid for its high school students, which Haldane has raised over the past two years to a state-determined maximum (expected to be about $21,500 per student in 2022-23), rather than a negotiated rate in which the district charged $13,980 per student in 2020-21. O’Neill also will charge its full rate, about $17,000.
The Garrison property tax rate is $9.75 per $1,000 of assessed value, which means that a property valued at $500,000 pays $4,875. If the district stays at the 2.2 percent cap, that rate would rise to $9.96 per $1,000, or $4,980. If approved by the voters, the budget would require a rate of $10.72 per $1,000, or $5,360.
Another factor that has impacted the budget is a proposed change to the formula used to determine state aid that would cost Garrison nearly $100,000, or provide 9.58 percent less than it received this year, because it’s a relatively wealthy community that is not considered “high need,” Jimick said. By contrast, the median increase in aid to districts in Westchester and Putnam is expected to be 17 percent, including 11 percent at Haldane and 18 percent in Putnam Valley.