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Newcomb Central School District cafeteria Photo: NCPR file
Newcomb Central School District cafeteria Photo: NCPR file

Voters slap down four school budgets that bust prop tax cap

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Voters in the North Country sent a clear message to school districts that tried to exceed the state property tax cap. The answer was a resounding No.

The vast majority of the region's budgets came in under the cap and passed handily.

But four of the region's school systems -- in General Brown, Minerva, Newcomb and Tupper Lake -- asked voters to go beyond the roughly 4-5% hike allowed by state rules.

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In order to do so, those schools needed a 60% super-majority.

But in two out of the three districts, Minerva and Tupper Lake, a clear majority of voters rejected the idea, according to reports in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise and the Glens Falls Post Star.

In Newcomb, meanwhile, a majority of voters approved the higher budget, but not by the margin required.

At General Brown Central, where the district sought a 9.9 percent tax levy increase, WWNY-TV reports that a majority voted for the budget, but it fell short of the 60-percent needed to exceed the state tax cap.

All four districts will now have to rework their budgets, cutting more dollars from programs, salaries and other costs.  They are expected to put their revamped spending plans to a vote next month.

Tuesday’s vote appeared to signal an unwillingness on the part of voters to accept substantial spending increases, even when district leaders made a strong argument that more dollars were desperately needed.

Tupper Lake school superintendent Seth McGowan argued earlier this spring that the district faced a risk of insolvency.  “We have plugged all the holes in the dam, battened down the hatches, and we have been under tremendous pressure. Now the levy just broke.”

That view was echoed by Tupper Lake district board chair Dan Mansfield.

“Now we’re at the point where we’re talking about surviving, actually surviving with a viable school that can graduate students and meets the minimum requirements by law,” Mansfield said in March.

But in Tuesday’s vote, according to the Enterprise, Mansfield was voted out of office.

Voters in all 17 school districts in St. Lawrence County approved budgets yesterday(TUES), along with most in Jefferson County. The one failure was at General Brown Central.

A thunderstorm caused power outages in the Canton area in the early evening.  According to the Watertown Daily Times, voting at Canton Central was not affected.  The district's $24-million dollar budget easily passed, as did the request to purchase buses, and $12-thousand dollars for the Canton Free Library.

The Times reports that officials at Hermon-DeKalb Central had to turn on the school's generator so voting could continue.  The district's budget and bus issue both passed.

Also yesterday, WWNY reports that three incumbent school board members at Clifton-Fine Central lost their seats. The district has faced controversies regarding the superintendent's position and the high school principal. Voters supported 3 new candidates to the board, and approved the district budget.

Brian Mann and Julie Grant contributed to this report.

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