69 percent of voters approve tax-cap override
Voters in the Garrison School district on Tuesday (June 21) approved a spending plan that includes a 6.6 percent tax increase, avoiding a contingency budget that the board said would have resulted in cuts to sports, arts and music, along with the loss of five employees.
The district in May asked voters to approve a budget with a 9.18 percent increase, far more than the maximum 2.2 percent state-mandated tax increase allowed for the district in 2022-23. Under state law, at least 60 percent of voters must approve such an override, but the vote was 314-314.
The board then submitted a revised budget for the Tuesday vote, which passed 614-269, or with 69 percent approval. The turnout was 42 percent.
“This will allow us to maintain high quality programs and services for the children of Garrison,” said Superintendent Carl Albano, following the vote. “I’m certainly relieved.”
The polls closed at 9 p.m. After anxiously awaiting the count, the school board ratified the budget at a meeting convened at 10:30 p.m.
In attendance was Ned Rauch, the PTA president, who helped organize more than a dozen parents to make phone calls, send text messages, write letters and place advertisements urging passage. Rauch said he was “profoundly grateful” to the volunteers.
The threat of a contingency budget appeared to have swayed some voters who had voted against the budget in May. The second budget received 45 fewer “no” votes than the first (and 300 more “yes” votes).
Linda Lomonaco, who had been an outspoken opponent of the May budget, said she planned to vote for the revised plan. “I can’t condone a contingency budget,” she said. “That’s not fair for anybody.”
Lomonaco added that she was grateful that the district listened to the concerns of those who felt the proposed 9.18 percent tax increase was too high.
The approved budget includes $12.1 million in spending; the tax levy will rise to $10.39 per $1,000 of full value, or an increase of $322 annually on a home valued at $500,000. That remains the lowest property tax rate in Putnam County; Haldane’s tax rate is $17.01 per $1,000 and Brewster homeowners pay $27.74.
Garrison’s budget crisis is the result of several factors. Along with rising inflation, the district faces increased costs in 2022-23 for health care (14 percent) and transportation (12 percent). Garrison’s state aid for 2022-23 is nearly $100,000 less than this year, although it did get a one-time injection of funds after lobbying Albany.
If the revised spending plan had not been approved, state law would not allow the district to hold additional votes. Instead, spending would have been frozen at the 2021-22 level, with no tax increase. Along with cutting music and sports, the district said it would have been forced to eliminate five jobs: for an elementary teacher; the school psychologist; a dialectical behavioral therapist, who helps with students’ social and emotional needs; the environmental science teacher; and the director of technology.
Statewide, the average increase in school taxes was 3.2 percent, according to the Empire Center for Public Policy. The state tax cap was implemented in 2012 and Garrison was the first local district to attempt an override.
Voters on Tuesday also approved, by a vote of 791-92, a proposition that will allow Garrison to negotiate high-school tuition rates with the Haldane district for up to five years, rather than annually. Garrison educates students through the eighth grade, after which those who attend public high schools can select Haldane in Cold Spring or O’Neill High School in Highland Falls. Voters on May 17 approved a similar measure allowing Garrison to negotiate a multiyear agreement with the Fort Montgomery-Highland Falls district.
As part of the effort to lower the 9.18 percent increase to 6.6 percent for the second vote, Garrison teachers agreed not to receive raises in 2022-23, which saved $70,000. A freeze on administrators’ salaries saved another $20,000.
The district saved $107,513 under a tentative, multiyear agreement with the Haldane school district for high school tuition costs. Haldane had proposed charging Garrison $21,473 per student in 2022-23, using a formula devised by the state. Instead, it will charge $16,500 per student.
The revised budget approved on Tuesday also eliminates a part-time music teacher position to save $48,865; reduces the field-trip budget by $15,000 (parents will pay the full costs); cuts a startup lunch program to save $10,000 (students will continue to bring their own lunches); and eliminates a Land to Learn program to save $20,000.