It was the longest board of education meeting Pamela Wentworth could remember.
“I’ve never seen a meeting this long,” the president of Batavia Teachers’ Association whispered as the meeting closed at about 10 p.m.
But at the close of three hours of work, board members had managed to cut, scrimp and save their way down to just a 4.13-percent proposed property tax increase. That figure represents roughly $275,000 less tax revenue than the district would have received under the first-draft budget, which included a 5.75-percent tax increase. Voters shot that budget down last week.
“I just think it’s our obligation to put another budget in front of the public,” said Board President Andrew Pedro. Pedro entered one of three no votes to the contingency budget, which would have included a 5.13-percent tax increase.
“To me…the public sent a message (in the budget vote) that was ‘no,’” Pedro said. “Now if they shoot it down again, our hands are tied,” and the contingency budget must be adopted.
It’s important to note that a contingency budget would include a 5.13-percent property tax increase – more than what the district will now propose to voters. (See note at bottom) A contingency budget also includes a clause that the community may not use district facilities for free at a cost to the district. The cost must either be recouped through a fee, or the facilities must be shuttered to the public.
If board members had voted tonight to adopt the contingency budget, the public would not have had the chance to vote.
There were originally three budget options on the table for the board this evening. Choice Number One was to re-submit the already failed budget to voters. Choice Number Two was to submit a new budget to voters with just a 3-percent property tax increase, by including $170,000 in savings from four teacher retirements and wrapping in nearly $300,000 in reserves. And Choice Number Three was the contingency budget.
Superintendent Margaret Puzio explained that retirement savings weren’t realized in the first budget submitted to voters, because paperwork hadn’t yet been finished. But those savings are now ineligible to be wrapped into a contingency budget to drive taxes down.
That’s when Steve Hyde piped up with what he termed “the hybrid”: include all the cost savings in the contingency budget, wrap-in the retirement savings from Choice Number Two, and draw nothing from the district reserves.
“It still protects reserves for rainy days, because next year could be really terrible and tough,” Hyde pointed out, referring to a possible state property tax cap. “And a contingency budget is going to put a lot of hardships on community groups that rely on our facilities.”
Hyde’s plan would have to be put to a vote on June 21.
But Board Member Steve Mountain did not agree with either Andy Pedro or Steve Hyde.
“The vote was not a ‘loud and clear no,’” Mountain said. “Less than 10-percent of voters, voted” in the budget vote last week.
Mountain elected to go with the contingency budget, and instead place the $170,000 retirement savings in that rainy-day reserve fund for next year, as even more back-up.
“The taxpayer wouldn’t realize it (the benefit) until next year,” Mountain said. “If we put out a 3-percent budget this year, are we going to put out a 10-percent budget next year? We want to make sure we’re being consistent.”
The contingency budget was eventually put to a vote, and split 3-3 because Board Member Patrick Burk was away on other business. Burk was summoned, and voted the contingency budget down.
“I like Steve’s ‘hybrid’ where we are maintaining some of the reserves,” Burk said. “If the re-vote does pass, we are not jeopardizing the use of facilities by our community, which supports us in much larger areas.”
A vote on the “hybrid budget” passed 5-2. The unofficial final tally for that budget is $39,366,045, with a 4.13-percent property tax increase. The budget will go to voters on June 21, with a public hearing to be held at least one week in advance.
NOTE: A new contingency budget, if adopted, would contain a different property tax figure than the first-version contingency plan. School officials explained to WBTA News that each budget presented to voters has a subsequent related contingency budget. The new proposal (the hybrid) already takes out the equipment expenses that are legally required to be removed for contingency budgets. Therefore the new (hybrid) budget proposal and subsequent contingency budget may be the same number.
Photos by Howard Owens