Closing time at the polls on Tuesday night, June 21 found voters approving the Highland Central School District’s proposed budget of $41,522,885 for the 2016-2017 school year. The budget passed by a 69 percent majority: 772 in favor with 353 opposed. Unlike the first budget vote that failed on May 17 despite garnering more yes votes than no, the $41.5 million budget met the criteria of the state’s tax levy limit legislation and therefore needed a simple majority approval of 50 percent plus one vote to pass.
The vote on June 21 was for the budget only; the bus replacement proposition back in May passed with 704 “yes” votes to 597 “no” votes, achieving the simple majority voter approval rate it required. The district will purchase seven 65-passenger buses, one 29-passenger vehicle and one eight-passenger van at a cost of $937,803, with almost 60 percent of the cost covered by state transportation aid. The remaining $383,561 will be funded through local taxes, an impact that will not be felt by taxpayers until the 2017-18 budget, when it will add a maximum of $6 per year (for five years) per $100,000 of assessed home value.
Trustees Tom Miller and Sue Gilmore were reelected in May to their seats on the Board of Education for a third three-year term each, beginning July 1. The new vote also did not affect their election.
The approved budget reflects a tax levy increase of .5861 percent, bringing it in at just under the .59 percent increase allowable in Highland without having to resort to supermajority voter approval. The budget eliminated $133,211 allotted in the first budget for salaries to fill three full-time positions made available by retirement: a teaching position at the elementary school, a physical education teacher at the middle school and a teaching assistant position. (There is also a vacant custodial position that will not be filled, but that was already accounted for.) Fund balance formerly designated to reduce debt and augment the capital reserve was reallocated to reach the levy limit.
The budget reflects an increase of 2.5 percent over the 2015-16 total budget. It calls for a tax levy of $26,051,044, which will cost taxpayers with a home assessed at $100,000 approximately $13 per year more than what they pay now; for those with a home assessed at $200,000, the figure will be approximately $26 per year. An average homeowner with a $300,000 assessed value would see an estimated tax increase of $3.25 per month.
An additional challenge the Highland district faced in budget development this year was an increase in the costs of mandated (and necessary) special education services, which rose from $822,000 this year to $1,047,000 for 2016-17. The costs for the BOCES budget of $1,135,000 this year also went up, to $1,425,000. And while the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA) legislation enacted to balance a state budget deficit seven years ago has ended, restoring $711,610 in funding this year to Highland, the district’s state aid “foundation” formula has been frozen since 2008, resulting in the district receiving $17,000 in foundation aid this year rather than the $2 million it would have received had the formula been restored.