Saugerties voters overwhelmingly approved a $62.4-million school budget for 2018-19 on Tuesday. The turnout was lower than usual, however.
Whether the weather might have been a factor in the turnout is unclear. School officials were pleased that the spending plan, which comes with a 2.53 percent tax-levy increase, passed by a margin of 663-345.
A spring storm hammered the Hudson Valley on Tuesday, leading to the power being knocked out at one of the district’s four polling places, Grant D, Morse Elementary School. A generator was used to run the voting machines in the school.
“I’d like to thank the folks who went out yesterday,” said district business manager Lissa Jilek on Wednesday morning. “We appreciate that. And thanks to the Centerville Fire Department, because without them voting wouldn’t have been possible. People would have been voting with flashlights. Talk about a community coming together. That was awesome.”
With a total of 1008 votes cast, the budget was decided by significantly fewer people than in recent years. The 2017-18 budget saw 1600 votes cast, passing by a margin of 1104-496. And 1578 people voted in 2016, with the spending plan passing 1082-496. This year’s voting total was less than half of what it was in 2015 and in 2013.
School officials hoped that the district has earned the public’s trust. “There’s continuity in the administration, and that has allowed for consistency,” said superintendent Seth Turner. “And we’ve had a number of clean audits from a variety of different entities, be it the comptrollers’ office, internal auditors and external auditors.”
Turner said the roughly two-to-one ratio in favor of the budget has been fairly consistent over the past few years.
Jilek agreed. “I think we’re demonstrating that we have a sound budget process, a sound school district, and that we’re making sound educational and financial decisions,” she said. “I think they’re thankful that we’re trying to be conservative and always try to stay within the tax cap for the past several years.”
Turner hoped budget passage meant the district can now get on with the process of preparing for the 2018-19 school year. “There’s a number of actions built into the budget planned for next year,” Turner said.
Among those actions is a recent court mandate that all Boces systems share post-retirement benefits of all component school districts. The shift means in Saugerties that Boces employees working exclusively within the district are now considered Saugerties district employees. While the move resulted in a jump of Boces administrative expenses of around $185,000, the district’s overall Boces costs will be 5.3 percent lower in 2018-19.
“Believe it or not, I’m already thinking about 2019-20,” Jilek said. “I can’t wait to put all my budget data to bed, so to speak, and start on next year.”
Voters also reelected three unopposed members of the current school board. Raymond Maclary led with 767 votes, followed by James Mooney with 753, and board president Robert Thomann with 750.