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Tax cap producing school budget approvals, lower voter turnouts

Dave Debo

Since the enactment of New York's property tax cap, school budgets are being approved on an almost routine basis. Earlier this week, 97.6 percent of school budgets passed acrossed the state, according to Tim Kremer of the New York State School Boards Association. The focus on holding down taxes, Kremer says, has had unintended consequences.  "I hate to say it, but I think people (have) become apathetic."

Turnout is "dropping dramatically." The property tax cap was enacted in 2012 and Kremer reports an "over 30 percent drop in voter turnout since that time."

Some districts this year tried to pass budgets with increases surpassing the tax cap. Half of those districts, including Eden, saw their spending plans rejected. Such spending hikes require a super majority of voters--at least 60 percent--to be approved.

The Eden School District was also recently a subject for Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz who has issued a report on the potential savings in the consolidation of some districts. While Poloncarz hailed the efficiencies in a possible Eden merger with the North Collins School District, Kremer gave a general dismissal to the prospect.

"For a politician, that is a third rail issue that he or she should probably stay away from."

According to Kremer, other districts have floated similar ideas on consolidation. Often there is initial support before other issues take control. Financially-stable districts grow wary of the problems connected with their merging partners. Occasionally, the sports rivalries found in adjacent districts can be obstacles. 

While the tax cap provides a construct for budget planners, basic costs continue to rise.

"The employers contribution rate to the retirement systems went up. That's a complicated formula unto itself," Kremer said. 

"Lot of dollars being devoted to school safety and security measures and a lot of people talking about hiring school resource officers. So, I think that's where you're going to see a lot of the new money going." 

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