Mayor says residents concerned with how school tax dollars are spent

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:51

    WARWICK-Prior to going to last week's state Assembly forum on how to fund education, Mayor Michael Newhard solicited suggestions from residents. After all, school taxes are a hot issue, coming off the recent school elections that twice sent Warwick's $69 million budget to defeat. Newhard was invited, along with other municipal officials throughout the area, to participate in the forum in Suffern, in part to give ideas about how better to fund education in New York State. "I went to our Citizen's Advisory Board and got letters from residents about it," said Newhard. "I discussed it with residents from all backgrounds - seniors, new residents, those with young families." What Newhard came away with from those residents was not so much how the money is received, rather how it is spent. "During a round-table discussion with constituents, the first comment was concerning what bullet point was missing from the focus question of this committee - that was ‘can we spend less and can we spend more effectively?'" Newhard said. "It became clear through discussion that there was a concern from the public, not only how we fund public education, but also what we are funding." The Warwick residents said it is the taxpayer's responsibility to fund an integral core of required education, Newhard said. Beyond that, some costs should be borne by families and state funding for economically disadvantaged students "It became apparent that the public expects a school board, district and the state to have fiduciary responsibility towards education and the public," he stated. But this committee was put together by state Assembly members who want to test the water for reform. The question came to be, according to Newhard, how would you feel about changing the funding structure to an income-based tax rather than property? "They were really interested in this particular tax change - via income instead of property taxes," Newhard said. A morning session focused mostly on that. During the session Newhard attended later in the day, the discussion focused more on the responsibility of school districts and the state Department of Education to the people. Nothing was finalized. This was one stop on a tour throughout the state to get input on better ways to fund education. Overall, Newhard said half the people were in favor of funding through income and half were not. It would put condominium owners on the same plane as other homeowners because condos are assessed differently than houses. Seniors might benefit because their incomes tend to decrease after retirement. "The legislators were there to listen," said Newhard. "It was worth getting the feedback from the people. I definitely got a sense of what voters were interested in."