Voters say no to school budget

Saugerties voters have rejected the proposed $53.5 million budget with a 6.9 percent tax levy increase by nearly 300 votes.

The budget included funding for athletics, instrumental music, and extracurricular activities, and kept all student programs currently being offered. It also called for five teachers to be laid off.

“We’ve been handed a mandate by the voters,” said School Board President George Heidcamp. “Now we have to roll up our sleeves and get back to work.”

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In the candidate race, where four men were vying for three seats on the board of ed, two of the three incumbents have been returned to their seats. Tom Ham and Charles Schirmer will continue to serve on the board for another term, and will be joined by newcomer Bob Thomann. Trustee Steven Haun will not return.

As for the budget, Heidcamp said he does not know what the board will decide to do, and was not comfortable guessing at the possibilities. By law, it has three options. It can put the same budget back before voters, make adjustments to the budget and put out an amended proposal, or vote to immediately adopt an austerity budget.

An austerity budget, if adopted now, would be approximately $68,000 less. Monies allocated for non-contractual raises and certain equipment (including a backhoe the district hopes to purchase) would be removed.

It is unlikely that sports or student activities would be removed.

“It’s a juggling act, and that’s the hardest part of this job,” said Heidcamp. “We have to balance what the needs of the students are with what we can afford.”

Newly elected candidates also expressed disappointment in the budget vote.

“I thought the administration did a good job in putting together a tight budget,” said Tom Ham. “The increase to the budget was only one and a half percent. It’s unfortunate that the tax levy increase was so high because the state continues to decrease funding.”

Bob Thomann said he hopes the board opts to make revisions, and put a second budget proposal out to taxpayers.

Heidcamp said he was disappointed in the voter turnout. Of approximately 13,000 registered voters in the district, only 3,000 weighed in on the budget. Another 52 affidavit ballots are still to be counted once verified by the Ulster County Board of Elections.

The rejected budget would have carried a tax rate in Saugerties of $16.77 per $1000 of assessed property value. This would mean the owner of a property valued at $200,000 would have seen a school tax bill of $3,357 if the budget passed. The tax rate for town of Woodstock residents who reside within the Saugerties School District would have been $18.43 per $1000 , and town of Ulster residents would have paid $22.50 per $1000.

The vote totals for the trustees were as follows: Schirmer garnered 1849 votes, followed by Thomann with 1679,  Tom Ham kept his seat with 1595 votes, and Haun finished with 1429. The 52 affidavit ballots will not affect the results.

“I’m excited, and I’m looking forward to the challenge,” said Thomann, who will join the board on July 1.

Thomann met with much contention during the short campaign season. He refused a congratulatory handshake from Heidcamp.

“I thought his congratulations was false,” said Thomann. “After he attacked me the way he did, he owes me an apology. And, it needs to be a public apology since he tried to hang me in public.”

Heidcamp, upset at Thomann’s reaction, said it’s time to put any animosity behind them.

“He doesn’t have to like me,” said Heidcamp. “But, we have a job to do. We have to put our personal feelings aside. I’m not going to let his animosity get in my way. I’m just going to do my job.”

Heidcamp says he is a professional, and can work with anyone in a professional manner. He offered no thoughts on Haun’s removal from the board except to say that the people have spoken.

Several weeks ago, though not acting in his official capacity as board president, Heidcamp proposed asking for Haun’s resignation in an email sent to the superintendent several weeks ago. He later said he had decided not to pursue the resignation.

Haun will continue to serve on the board through June 30.

 

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