Voters reject Tupper Lake school budget (update)

TUPPER LAKE – For the first time in 16 years, Tupper Lake Central School District residents voted down the district’s school budget.

Since the proposed 2013-14 budget would have exceeded the state’s tax cap, increasing the tax levy by 8.35 percent, at least 60 percent of voters would have needed to vote yes.

But it didn’t even get a simple majority, with 685 people voting against it and 512 voting in favor.

School board President Dan Mansfield was also voted off the board. Dawn Hughes retained her seat with 735 votes, and challenger Trish Anrig, a former employee of the district, got on with 652. Mansfield garnered 567.

Voters also rejected, 750-426, a proposition that would have allowed the district to buy two new buses at a maximum cost of up to $230,500. The proposition was part of an annual bus replacement program that had the district replacing its transportation on a cycle that district officials said saved on maintenance costs.

Voters coming out of the polls said the budget was asking too much of taxpayers.

Barry Mattoon said he voted no because he believes that if the district can get under the tax cap, it should.

“I think they can do a better job,” Mattoon said.

His wife, Tammy Mattoon, said that while she has good friends who are teachers, everyone is hurting financially right now, and everyone needs to sacrifice.

“They’ve got enough. Everybody’s got to suffer,” she said. “It’s just not fair to everybody.”

Jerry Seleni said he doesn’t believe the district did enough to get teachers to contribute more toward their health insurance.

“I just think it’s out of control,” Seleni said.

He said locals complain about Protect the Adirondacks and the Sierra Club hurting Tupper Lake’s economy with their lawsuit against the Adirondack Club and Resort, but he said the schools are hurting it, too.

“They’re just doing the same thing,” he said.

He said school officials are more concerned with their own livelihood than with the kids of the district.

District Superintendent Seth McGowan said the district will have to go through the budget process again. The board will approve another version of the budget and hold another hearing and another vote, which he said he believes will be in mid-June.

He had told the school board earlier this month that if the first vote fails, the administrative team would likely find a way to cut another $262,000 to get under the tax cap. If the second budget vote fails, the district would need to go to last year’s tax levy, which would mean another $350,000 or so in cuts.

Tuesday night, McGowan called the budget vote disappointing.

“We try to do the right thing for the school and plan for the long term, but the short term gets in people’s way,” McGowan said. “Schools don’t work like a personal budget at home where you can save up enough money and go out and make a purchase. Schools have got to be planning on five-year cycles at least, and that’s what we were doing. Unfortunately, we’re forced to think short-term for this year.”

The budget voted down included a total of $17,233,794 in spending, a 7.64 percent increase over the current year.

The two other school districts that tried to exceed the tax cap in the region, Newcomb and Minerva, saw their budgets fail Tuesday as well.

Tupper Lake voters haven’t rejected a school budget since 1997. Budgets failed three years in the 1990s: The district had to go to an austerity budget after voters rejected two versions in 1994, and second versions of the budget were passed in 1996 and ’97. In 1994, the whole budget was put up for a revote, but in ’96 and ’97, the second votes broke out specific parts of the budget, according to district Business Manager Garry Lanthier.

School board reactions

Poll workers said there was a line almost all day to the voting booth in the middle/high school classroom where the budget vote takes place every year. They said they were exhausted and didn’t get a chance to eat because they were so busy.

When the polls closed at 8 p.m., school administrators and board members crowded into the end of the room and joked nervously as they waited for the results. Thunder crashed outside as McGowan tallied the totals from the voting machines once, then a second time to be sure he had the correct numbers.

When he announced the final numbers, expressions of worry and disappointment flashed across the faces of school board members.

Mansfield, who had been quietly sitting across the room from the rest of them by himself, joined his fellow board members to hear the results. Then he quickly adjourned the board meeting, said he would be in email contact with them about the future budget process, and left the school. He could not be reached for comment later Tuesday night.

Hughes said she was disappointed the budget failed but thanked voters for supporting her.

“I will do the best job I can to represent their interests and still keep it all about the kids,” Hughes said.

Reached by phone this morning, Anrig said she hopes she can do some good. She said she wasn’t that surprised when someone called her to tell her the results they saw on Facebook.

“And it was one of those, ‘OK, it’s like the dog chasing the car: Now you’ve caught it, what do you do with it?'” Anrig said.

Her term starts July 1. She said she plans to wait and see what will happen with the second budget vote. She voted no on the budget Tuesday.

“We’ll see if the second budget is better and goes through, and if not, then some real work begins,” Anrig said.

Contact Jessica Collier at 891-2600 ext. 26 or