Saugerties voters approve school budget by 2-1 margin

Voters in the Saugerties Central School District approved by a margin of 2,652-1,144 a $66,471,574 budget for the 2020-21 school year. Voting, conducted by mail due to the COVID-19 pandemic, saw a significant increase in participation compared to last year, when the 2019-20 budget passed by a margin of 670-345. The 2020-21 budget earned 70 percent approval from voters, compared to 66 percent approval for the 2019-20 spending plan.

The budget represents an increase of $1,172,152, or 1.80 percent over the 2019-20 spending plan, and includes a local tax levy increase of 2.18 percent, or $867,742, bringing that total to $40,631,060. The proposed tax levy increase is at the maximum allowable under the state mandated cap for the district. 

The approved spending plan overcame a deficit of $1,785,303 by tapping into a fund balance ($1,440,303), ERS reserve ($330,000) and unemployment reserve ($15,000). The deficit is partly due to a projected reduction in state aid of $408,893, or 1.77 percent. The Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office has indicated that further reductions during the school year are also possible depending upon the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, with a look back scheduled for Tuesday, June 30. 

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“We’re concerned that he’s going to cut funding for school districts,” said School Board President Robert Thomann after a meeting to accept the polling figures on Thursday, June 18. “The majority of district budgets (across New York) passed, so is he going to say, ‘Well, you have money now, so we can take from state aid’”?  

Also on the ballot were three uncontested seats on the Board of Education, with incumbents Susan Gage earning 2,920 votes and Krista Barringer 2,522 votes. Newcomer Timothy Wells will join the School Board having picked up 2,493 votes to fill a seat left open when Damion Ferraro decided not to seek reelection. 

Thomann said that while he was pleased that the mail-in ballots led to greater turnout than in traditional polling years, the expense would make it difficult to change to the practice full time after the pandemic is over. 

“We discovered that the mail-in ballots are better way to do things, although they’re very expensive for the district,” Thomann said. “I had a lot of people in the community speak to me before the ballot came out, and they were very anxious to get the ballots because they were concerned about their kids’ education and said they were going to both positively on the budget. You don’t have to go to public places, and with the pandemic and everything else that’s going on people worried about ensuring that their kids’ education was in place.”

The next meeting of the Board of Education will be held on Tuesday, July 14.