Board anticipates 3.3 percent tax increase
The Garrison school district superintendent on Wednesday (March 1) proposed a $12.65 million budget for the 2023-24 academic year, representing a 3.3 percent property tax increase.
That will match the tax cap calculated by the state for Garrison in 2023-24, said Superintendent Carl Albano, meaning only a majority of district voters must approve the budget in May, rather than 60 percent. But he cautioned that an override of the cap will likely be needed for the 2024-25 budget.
Last year, the Garrison school board presented a budget with a 9.18 percent increase, far in excess of the cap, which was calculated by the state for Garrison to be 2.2 percent. That budget failed to get 60 percent support and the district subsequently presented another budget with a 6.6 percent increase that passed with 69 percent approval.
Albano said that the district is staying at the cap only because it will spend savings, or reserve, funds. “Using reserves to close a budget gap is not a long-term strategy,” he said. “We’re running out of reserves.”
The budget will be presented to the public in a series of meetings and hearings over the next two months. The vote is scheduled for May 16.
A major goal of the board was to avoid another override. “I don’t think the community has the appetite for an override this year,” said Kent Schacht, who chairs the board’s finance committee.
To balance the budget, the district must address challenges with costs as well as revenues, said Joe Jimick, the district’s business administrator.
One key revenue challenge is the relative lack of funding from the state. Under the Foundation Aid Formula, the district next year will receive an increase of about 3 percent, or $17,244, said Jimick. By comparison, he said, other Putnam districts are receiving an average increase of 23 percent. Jimick pointed out that Brewster is expecting a 31.8 percent aid increase, amounting to $4.7 million in additional revenue.
Garrison receives less money because of its relatively high property values. “The state is saying, ‘You don’t need it,’” Jimick said.
Sarah Tormey, the board president, said that the board has lobbied Dana Levenberg, whose district in the state Assembly includes Garrison, and state Sen. Rob Rolison, to get more funding.
To supplement revenue, the district plans to withdraw $662,220 from its savings, although an over-reliance on reserves is fiscally unwise, Jimick said. “It’s not good for the long-term health of the school district,” he said. “But we don’t see a choice.”
The primary factors driving up costs are debt service for capital projects ($119,756), a 5.5 percent increase in employee health insurance premiums ($75,422), electric costs for a new HVAC system ($69,000) and an 8 percent transportation cost increase ($58,567).
Even with a 3.3 percent increase, the Garrison property tax levy would still be the lowest in the county, by far. Its current levy is $9.75 per $1,000 of full value, meaning a $500,000 home is assessed $4,875 in annual taxes. Haldane’s tax rate is $16.97 per $1,000 and Carmel’s is $25.47.