More residents say ‘No' to same budget on second try

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:50

    WARWICK-If the vote wasn't decisive in May, there was no question that last week's school budget vote certainly sent a message to the Warwick Valley School District. Nearly 1,400 more voters came out to vote this time and defeated the district's $69.75 million budget by nearly 1,000 votes - 1,857 voting yes, 2,801 voting no. In May, the same budget was defeated by just 15 votes. The school board decided to put the same budget up to the voters instead of a revised one. According to the district, the original budget was tight financially, but maintained the quality of education expected in the district. The proposed budget is an increase of 7.79 percent over last year's budget, the lowest budget increase and tax increase in six years. The school board went back to the drawing board Tuesday night, discussing cuts in programs, clubs, athletics, busing and trips that must amount to just more than $1 million. Board member Coleen Johnson, who was reelected in May to another three-year term, said taxpayers are just tired of rising taxes. "I've read the letters to the editor. People just got out and voted. They've had it with taxes. That's the bottom line," she said. Warwick schools superintendent Dr. Joseph Natale said some hard decisions must be made. "I'm disappointed in the result, but I understand," he said. "The community has expressed its feelings. It was a decent turnout and we will address their concerns. We certainly recognize their needs and will work hard to fulfill them. This is a great community, a very supportive community." The difference to taxpayers in terms of money was small - $2.70 less per $1,000 of assessed value with a contingency or austerity budget. A home assessed at $40,000, one quarter of market value, will pay $108 less in taxes because the budget was not passed. The vote, though, was more the message than anything else. "I am just tired of it," said one resident who voted no to the budget. "They put up the same budget with no changes at all after the voters said no. It is arrogant on their part." Noreen Daly used to live in Wickham Village. She moved to Greenville five years ago because she said she could not afford the taxes in Warwick anymore. "We wanted to get a place with more land for horses," said Daly. "There was no way we could afford that in Warwick. We moved to Greenville and pay the same in school taxes for 2.5 acres as we did for a third of an acre in Wickham Village." The problem is the same in her new community: When school budget figures were announced for the coming year, Daly said five houses on her road went up for sale. "I don't understand this. When is this going to stop?" she said. "They should be accountable for the money they spend." That certainly goes beyond the local school boards. Johnson said that districts have so many unfunded mandates from the state that they can't keep their programs going. "We need more lobbying," she said. "We pay so much in taxes to the state and the federal governments. We need for more of it to come back to our communities." Natale discussed in general terms some areas that the board could cut to meet the contingency budget. One of the only programs taken off the table for cuts is the kindergarten program. Half-day kindergarten had been mentioned as a possible cut. Because of transportation costs and a possible loss of state aid if the district went to a half-day program, cutting back from a full day to half would not be a cost saving to the district in the long run, Natale said. The board said it should not be considered-this year or in the future. Everything else is open for discussion, including fewer bus stops, larger class sizes, teacher layoffs, and reducing or eliminating some athletic programs. In addition, all community programs that use school facilities will have to pay for them during the 2005-06 school year. The board will get firm numbers from Natale before the July 13 reorganization meeting, when it will adopt a contingency budget, all cuts made.