Board wants to know more about impact on taxes
If the Haldane and Garrison school districts combined, what would happen to local property taxes?
That is the question the Garrison school board would like Superintendent Carl Albano and Business Administrator Joe Jimick to answer. Albano said he expects to have a response by mid-October.
In light of the district’s budget challenges in recent years, Albano said that the board has heard from residents wanting to know more about a potential merger.
The districts have the lowest property tax rates in Putnam County. For 2022-23, Garrison had a rate of $9.75 per $1,000 of valuation, compared to $16.97 for Haldane. By contrast, the Brewster school district has the highest in the county at $25.58.
Garrison has struggled to balance its budget in recent years. For 2023-24, the board adopted a $12.56 million plan that included a 3.3 percent increase in spending, matching its state-mandated cap for the year. The year before, voters approved an override (which requires 60 percent approval) of 6.6 percent but only after rejecting a request for a 9.18 percent hike. The cap was 2.2 percent.
Haldane Superintendent Philip Benante said that the district has not had a formal discussion about combining with Garrison.
Sarah Tormey, president of the Garrison board, said that a merger for the district is “a question that has come up, especially during budget season. The board would like more information so that we can answer questions as needed.”
The district has about 200 students, who attend through eighth grade. It pays tuition to Haldane, O’Neill and Putnam Valley high schools for its older students.
Albano and Tormey said the board heard a presentation on the topic from its legal counsel at a retreat in July. “They wanted to know the options,” Albano said of board members. “How does it work?”
There are several ways to combine districts, according to the state Education Department. In “centralization,” districts dissolve and re-form as a single district. In “annexation,” one or more districts are absorbed into another district.
Combining districts typically requires that the districts conduct feasibility studies and hold a public referendum. Albano was careful to point out that the board has not requested a feasibility study, only an analysis of the tax impact.
■ 2020: The 18-member committee that revised the Philipstown comprehensive plan recommends the town explore a unified school district, saying it should “seek a fair and balanced tax strategy.”
■ 2013: In a Current story that examines the logistics of a merger, Haldane Superintendent Mark Villanti says: “Other than in the press or in small pockets of our communities, there just does not seem to be a big push” for a feasibility study.
■ 2011: Anita Prentice, a member of the Garrison board, writes an op-ed for The Current that weighs the arguments. “The tax-rate difference is the most significant obstacle,” she writes. “Garrison residents, who would likely pay higher taxes, have a financial disincentive to work toward this change.” She adds that, since moving to Garrison 11 years earlier, “I have yet to come up with a single definitive answer that explains why our two small districts continue to persist separately side-by-side, but persist they do.”
■ 2011: Sandy Galef, then the state Assembly member whose district included Philipstown, asks a group of residents at a town hall in Garrison what they thought of a merger that would create a Putnam County district, with one administration.
■ 2008: The state Commission on Property Tax Relief proposes that districts with fewer than 1,000 students (or perhaps 2,000) be forced to merge. Villanti tells The Journal News: “There’s a trade-off between the economic benefits versus the community’s decision to make those decisions for themselves.”
■ 1998: Officials from Garrison, Haldane and Putnam Valley meet with lawmakers to discuss a regional high school. (In 2000, Putnam Valley, which sent its eighth graders to Walter Panas, builds its own.) The Garrison board applies for a state grant to study a merger with Haldane.
■ 1992: Under a state order, the Boards of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) develops plans to merge 139 districts, including Garrison, Haldane and Putnam Valley.
■ 1988: A committee with members from Garrison, Haldane and Putnam Valley estimates it would cost $12 million [$31 million today] to build a combined high school.
■ 1976: The Manitou district, which has 89 students but no building, merges with Garrison. Manitou property taxes drop 22 percent.
■ 1974: Haldane urges voters to approve the construction of a new elementary school, citing a state plan to merge Garrison and Haldane. The district notes it is already 368 students over capacity, even without Garrison pupils.
■ 1968: Despite the endorsement of all three school boards, voters from Haldane, Manitou and Garrison reject a proposal to merge the districts, 695-594.
■ 1964: The Haldane board calls for a joint meeting with Garrison, Manitou and Putnam Valley to discuss a merger.
■ 1958: The state Education Department sets guidelines for mergers, saying it would like each district to cover grades K-12 and have at least 1,200 students.