FORT EDWARD — Taxes for school district residents could jump by more than 31 percent because of the reduced assessment on the former dewatering plant.
The school board on Monday approved putting out to voters an $11.575 million budget, which increases spending by 6.62 percent. The tax levy would increase by 6.14 percent to the district’s cap of $3.184 million. The vote will take place on May 15.
But school officials are extremely concerned about what the final assessment will be for the two parcels that housed the old dewatering plant, which are now owned by WCC.
The Fort Edward town assessor has indicated that the assessments of the two WCC properties are likely going to be further reduced as a result of litigation, according to a report prepared by the district’s consultant. That could cut another $27 million from the total assessed value of property in the district, reducing it to about $112 million.
“We don’t know where that’s going to end up. Our tax rate can’t be set until we have the final assessment. That’s the biggest question,” said Superintendent of Schools Daniel Ward.
If $112 million becomes the final assessment number, the district’s tax rate could increase from $21.53 per $1,000 to $28.34, according to a presentation from the district. A homeowner with a house assessed at $100,000 would pay $681 more in taxes, for a $2,834 total.
Existing programs and services would be maintained in the budget. School officials have said they cannot cut programs, because they want to improve students’ academic achievement and meet their social and emotional needs.
Ward also pointed out the district reduced its 2017-18 tax levy by $625,000, more than a 17 percent decrease. But because of earlier assessment reductions, the tax rate still went up — from $20.61 to $21.53.
Ward said about 27 percent of the district’s revenues come from the tax levy, which is among the lowest in Washington County. Other districts of about the same size or smaller than Fort Edward have larger tax levies.
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Ward said the district of about 480 students would be in even worse shape if it were not for the efforts of Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner, D-Round Lake, and Sen. Elizabeth Little, R-Queensbury, to obtain a $400,000 grant.
“That money is immediately being applied to next year’s budget as revenue. Without it, we would have some more difficult decisions to make right now,” he said. “That’s great news for us.”
The district also received a $400,000 grant last year, which it used to balance the budget.
Ward cautioned that this special state aid will not last forever. When he was down in Albany last year to lobby legislators, he asked for help for three years to allow Fort Edward to weather this fiscal crisis and come up with a long-term plan.
“By my count, next year would be the third year,” he said.
The district just received a report that said if Fort Edward merged with Hudson Falls, the combined districts would qualify for $44 million special reorganization aid and 95 percent building aid for a 10-year period. The Fort Edward school board will be reviewing the report’s findings after budget season.
Other revenue sources include state aid of $7.16 million, which makes up 62 percent of the budget. The district received about a $106,000 increase in Foundation Aid, but Ward said that was not as much as school officials were hoping to get. Miscellaneous revenues make up the rest of the budget, including $224,000 from fund balance.
The district’s budget did not change much from an earlier draft. School officials said previously that most of the cost increases are contractually obligated increases in salaries and benefits — about a half-million dollars worth.
The district is trying to improve its 63 percent graduation rate. School officials want to buy a new writing curriculum called Writer’s Workshop to improve the English language arts test scores, and a program called i-Ready, which assesses student achievement three times a year in reading and math. They are also hoping to send more students to BOCES programs.