Voters slap down four school budgets that bust prop tax cap

Newcomb Central School District cafeteria (NCPR file photo)

Newcomb Central School District cafeteria (NCPR file photo)

Voters in the North Country sent a clear message to school districts that tried to exceed the state property tax cap.  The answer was a resounding No.

The vast majority of the region’s budgets came in under the cap and passed handily.

But four of the region’s school systems — in General Brown, Minerva, Newcomb and Tupper Lake — asked voters to go beyond the roughly 4-5% hike allowed by state rules.

In order to do so, those schools needed a 60% super-majority.

But in two out of the three districts, Minerva and Tupper Lake, a clear majority of voters rejected the idea, according to reports in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise and the Glens Falls Post Star.

In Newcomb, meanwhile, a majority of voters approved the higher budget, but not by the margin required.

At General Brown Central, where the district sought a 9.9 percent tax levy increase, WWNY-TV reports that a majority voted for the budget, but it fell short of the 60-percent needed to exceed the state tax cap.

All four districts will now have to rework their budgets, cutting more dollars from programs, salaries and other costs.  They are expected to put their revamped spending plans to a vote next month.

Tuesday’s vote appeared to signal an unwillingness on the part of voters to accept substantial spending increases, even when district leaders made a strong argument that more dollars were desperately needed.

Tupper Lake school superintendent Seth McGowan argued earlier this spring that the district faced a risk of insolvency.  “We have plugged all the holes in the dam, battened down the hatches, and we have been under tremendous pressure. Now the levy just broke.”

That view was echoed by Tupper Lake district board chair Dan Mansfield.

“Now we’re at the point where we’re talking about surviving, actually surviving with a viable school that can graduate students and meets the minimum requirements by law,” Mansfield said in March.

But in Tuesday’s vote, according to the Enterprise, Mansfield was voted out of office.

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10 Comments on “Voters slap down four school budgets that bust prop tax cap”

  1. A 25% property tax increase was never going to pass in this climate, regardless of the details.

  2. I wonder when Emperor Andrew is going to do anything about un- and under-funded mandates suffocating districts, since he promised that would be twinned with the tax cap.

    How about if the mandated part of a district’s spending rises more than 2% or whatever the district’s tax cap is, then the state should pay the difference? Maybe that would make the powers that be in Albany think a little more carefully about imposing these mandates.

    I’d hate to see it happen but the clowns in Albany are so insulated from reality (I mean, why haven’t Dems not tossed Silver out on his can?) that I fear it will only take something dramatic like a district insolvency to wake them up.

  3. Peter Hahn says:

    deciding not to educate your children isnt a very good answer.

  4. Mervel says:

    Its hard when dealing with the public. But I really think the districts have to be clearer about school financing. The days of saying we know what is best for your children trust us, thus we need far more in taxes; are over.

    The reality is for some of these districts 25% is not even going to be enough, the largest portion of district budgets that I am familiar with comes from State Aid. Local property taxes make up the remainder, well when the state aid goes down, the local property taxes really have to increase a LOT to make up for these decreases.

  5. EVH says:

    I agree, Mervel, but part of the problem with education in NYS is the entire process of delivery and funding of such a crucial endeavor is overly complicated. It’s as absurd and confusing as the federal tax code. Like the tax code in Washington, we need a complete rewrite that’s simple and transparent and doesn’t require a small army of administrators to understand and deliver.

  6. Mervel says:

    I agree, I would be in favor of much less centralized control from Albany. They should delegate regional authority for how to meet mandates, tailor mandates for particular regions based on size and so forth. What works in NYC has no bearing on what works in Canton or Lake Placid. I was shocked to find out how much power the NYS DOE has over the smallest details of what happens in these little schools scattered around the state.

  7. honk says:

    The main problem with these budgets is the percentage going towards benefits. If you look at the school district web page for tupper lake, they have a breakdown of the costs. About one third of the budget is going to pay for employee (or retiree) benefits. This is really hard to digest.

    But Tupper Lake is not the only district with this lopsided budget. All the districts are facing this problem. How to pay for the promised benefits and still provide a good education.

    Most of the benefits are mandated by union contracts or state law. But, districts can change health care providers but they have promised to keep the benefits about the same per union contract.

    Retirees are getting pensions and all these payments are included in the district budget. As people are living longer this means more is being paid out per retired individual.

    Retirees are also getting full health insurance until they reach Medicare age when the district can save some money. If an employee retires at 55 they can collect the full health benefit — and most school districts just collect the same amount from the retiree as the the employee — say about 15-20 %? I am not sure of the percentages and every district has negotiated a different rate. These rates usually apply to retirees as well.

    So let’s say an employee retires at 55 and has a spouse — they can both be on full insurance until they are 65. One of the spouses could be a bit younger so maybe it is more than 10 years.

    School districts could change the health benefits for retirees if they choose. For example, they could put the retired employee on a plan with a different insurance provider or else ask the retiree to contribute more than the employees for their share of family coverage.

    Even if districts take these steps, most of the costs for these retiree benefits are mandated by the state. It is unlikely they can make up the millions by making some retirees pay a little more for their health care.

    AND the same situation is in place for local governments — towns, counties etc… It just seems more obvious with school districts because they provide the public with all the statistics in their budget documents, post them on line and talk about them at board meetings.

    It is still up to the state to try to fix this. A new tier for new employees has addressed this problem. But the majority of employees and retirees are grandfathered into the older tiers.

    Cuomo would like to say consolidation of services will help. The problem seems too big for this to be the solution.

    And the 2% cap will not work forever. How many people were fooled by this? Pension costs do not count as part of the 2%, so most schools were increasing their budgets by 4-5% and still were remain under the cap. Is a 5% increase in the school budget a good idea every year? Do you think the cap is working?

    So Tupper Lake probably could have stayed within the cap, got a 5% increase and a vote of approval from the community without all the controversy.

    But that still is a big increase every year — will people continue to approve this?

    What I wrote about is just the tip of the iceberg. The state needs to overhaul the state aid formulas (which no one but a handful understand) and change the mandates.

    So far, no governor has wanted to reform anything about state aid or mandates. We have the quick fix… STAR by Governor Pataki, and now the tax cap by Governor Cuomo. These are not reforms. They are just peanuts handed out to pretend they are trying to change things.

  8. Mervel says:


    We have talked about this before but maybe the solution really is to stop paying some of these bills and just go bankrupt if the money is not there what are you supposed to do?

  9. Paul says:

    Can’t you just put up the same budget for a second vote? When you are faced with the austerity plan if it gets voted down the second time the voters may have more desire to get out and vote. What was the turn out situation?

  10. It's Still All Bush's Fault says:

    Essentially, there are three (3) options. 1) Put up the exact same budget up for another vote 2) Put a revised budget up for vote 3) Adopt the contingency (austerity) budget

    You might put up the same budget, if you thought the problem was turn-out or level of voter understanding. This could be risky. Increased voter turn-out may bring more NO votes if re-introducing the same budget is viewed as arrogance.

    You might stand a better chance if you revised the budget based on the information gained through the exit polling.

    I found the General Brown results interesting. The budget was “passed” by a large margin, but failed because it fell 25-26 votes short of the 60% needed. They need to really try to understand what it would take to get a few more votes. They may need to recruit from outside the area and register some new voters.

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