McGowan welcomes school budget questions

TUPPER LAKE – Tupper Lake Central School District Superintendent Seth McGowan wants to answer questions about the district’s proposed budget.

“They can call me at work, or my number’s in the book. They can call me at home,” McGowan said. “This vote is only a week away, and it’s really important that everybody understands and feels comfortable with it. If that means people call me at home, over the weekend or in the evening, that’s fine.”

McGowan made the announcement Monday night at the public school budget meeting in the L.P. Quinn Elementary School library. The Enterprise and Tupper Lake Free Press reporter Mary Peryea were the only attendees.

McGowan emphasized that spending in the proposed budget is down by 0.83 percent, a $141,489 reduction from the current school year.

The district is also receiving an additional $274,954 in state aid for its next budget, raising its state aid to almost $7.6 million.

The proposed budget is pretty much right at the tax cap, which allows the Tupper Lake district a 1.06 percent tax levy increase. The tax levy increase is $80,428. District Business Manager Garry Lanthier said that would amount to about a $14 increase on a home assessed at $100,000.

School bus vote

The school budget goes up to a public vote May 20, but it isn’t the only thing voters will decide on. They will also weigh in on a proposal to borrow money to buy two new, 66-passenger school buses for $234,314. The buses would replace two 7-year-old school buses which could be sold for about $17,000 each. McGowan said that money would go directly toward the new buses.

The district has 16 buses in its fleet and has historically replaced two used buses with two new buses every year. That cycle was interrupted last year when it failed to get voter support.

“We lost about $10,000 in resale on those buses, and we put about $12,000 in repairs into those two buses,” McGowan said. “Taxpayers saved $3,000 by not including that interest in the budget (last year). So, there’s a net loss of $19,000. Those two buses are still aging out even more, and when it comes time for resale they’re going to lose value even more. We would be looking at a much more significant loss overall.”

If approved, the new buses would be paid for with a serial bond. The proposed budget includes $7,000 for the interest on that bond, with the remaining payments spread out over the next five years.

McGowan said taxpayers could essentially get two new buses for the price of one. He estimates that, since the district would receive 65 percent in state reimbursement on the cost of the buses during the life of the loan, the final cost for both buses would be $117,171. After selling the two old buses, McGowan said that amount could drop to as low as $77,000.

“That is the best deal I could possibly think of,” McGowan said. “Two school buses that will keep our kids perfectly safe, will be on the road, will reduce maintenance and the cost of repairs.”

Veterans exemption

Voters will also take a poll on whether the district should consider providing the Alternative Veterans’ Exemption to veterans, which would begin in the 2015-16 school year.

“This is the concept: Would you be interested in paying a little bit more to support the veterans’ exemption?” McGowan asked.

Based on this year’s tax rates, McGowan said the exemption would add 11 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value to a non-veteran’s tax rate.

Lanthier said that estimate was based on July 1, 2013, assessments, and could change after this year’s assessments.