TICONDEROGA — Ticonderoga Central School District taxpayers are looking at a 2.83-percent tax increase in the new school budget.The proposed 2007-08 budget of $16.23 million would raise $8.6 million from property taxes, 2.83 percent more than the $8.4 million raised for this school year.The School Board held four community workshops before arriving at a tentative spending plan, Superintendent John McDonald Jr. said.There were also budget workshops, staff meetings and just plain brainstorming sessions, he said.Last year's budget had a similar tax increase: 2.89 percent.Projected tax rates haven't been set yet, McDonald said. The current tax rates are $9.80 per $1,000 of assessment in Ticonderoga and $10.48 in Hague.
Spending in the new budget is up 7 percent over the 2005-06 budget's $15.16 million. The amount to be raised by taxes will go from $8.4 million to $8.6 million.Half of the spending increase in the new budget is for benefits paid to School District employees."Benefits and building-project debt service were $800,000 of new spending," McDonald said.McDonald said the district got 16 percent more in all state aid for 2007-08 — $6.26 million — but largely because of debt service on the 2004 building project they're paying off."Our foundation aid is still at 3 percent," he said.The mandated costs include 3.7 percent in contractual salary hikes for district employees. There are also fuel and health-insurance increases, McDonald said."A 2.8-percent (levy) increase is not bad. We're still working on it, so it could be less."
John Whiteley, a spokesman for the Ticonderoga Association of Concerned Taxpayers, said he's worked with the district on the budget process this year."The big issue now is the new state-aid formula. It's a real problem. We have a high-needs district; we have high poverty rates."The state poverty scale for Ticonderoga School District is 1.89 against a maximum of 2.0, but another factor is making Ticonderoga look wealthier than it is, he said."Because of the second-home market, people are buying property at higher prices, and it's driving up the combined wealth ratio (for Ticonderoga). So, we're not getting a lot more state aid."The district will receive about 3 percent more in state aid for 2007-08, Whiteley said."We're locked into that 3 percent for four years. (Gov. Eliot) Spitzer presented a four-year program."But costs like fuel oil are going up at rates higher than 3 percent, Whiteley said.
Add to that a major facilities project the district is considering for an October vote, and taxes could be rising, he said."They haven't given any (firm) figures, but it could be $20 (million) to $30 million. That's on top of our annual budget increases."A project paid from serial bonds would add 10 percent to the budget each year, he said."Obviously, we have to take care of our facilities, but we have to keep it (tax increases) at the inflation rate. We have to worry about the future."He said they've been telling the board for years that without a new funding mechanism what could happen is what is now happening — taxes are growing."The system is going to hurt us up here. We're trying to work to get the (property-tax) system changed."Several bills have been introduced in the State Legislature to control property taxes, but none has so far been passed and signed into law.District enrollment is projected to decline from 1,005 this year to 980 students for the 2007-08 school year, but teaching staff will increase from 136 to 138, largely because of state and federal mandates.PUBLIC HEARINGThe public hearing on the budget is at 7 p.m. Tuesday, with adoption by the School Board to follow.Voter registration day is from 1 to 5 p.m. Tuesday, May 8, at the High School and Hague Community Center, with the public informational session on the budget the same day at 7 p.m. at the High School.The budget vote and election is noon to 8 p.m. Tuesday, May 15.