Congratulations to my Edgemont neighbors for their total apathy toward the school budget. Only 374 people voted on the budget and school board. This was the second lowest turnout of 46 districts in the lower Hudson Valley despite many of these districts being similar in size to Edgemont. This pathetic turnout came on the heels of approximately 85 people voting in the fire district election. There are more than 5,000 registered voters and most did not bother to vote on budgets representing almost 70% of their property tax bill. Is this the same community where taxation without representation is a primary reason for incorporation?
My wife and I attended the Edgemont Board of Education “public hearing” on the budget a week before the vote. Only one other member of the public (the school board chair’s wife) attended! When I asked to speak, the school board seemed annoyed. They said it was too late to change anything and they were not likely to respond to my comments. I reminded them of the purpose of a public hearing. They then listened to my comments.
My only major concern was the maintenance budget. It was several hundreds of thousands of dollars below what was actually spent in previous years. The school board [members] explained that they planned for this by adding to the annual capital budget and money would be transferred as needed. Of course, by that accounting trick, they lower the increase relative to the [New York] state [tax] cap because capital does not count against the cap.
I then asked about the long-term capital plan and whether they had planned for needed significant new construction within the next five years. (A new building would likely result in a new school bond of $40 million.) They said they had a five-year plan, but the out years were “TBD.” Of course, good planning would be estimating this if it were a likelihood. This would allow taxpayers in the community to take this money into consideration if and when they vote on incorporation, which is likely to add another $25 million to $50 million in debt service. But my plea fell on deaf ears.
The apathy in this community regarding civic affairs is very sad and especially concerning if Edgemont becomes a village. It will be the same small group of people running things and no one else. The rationalization for this apathy is things are running so well. Really? Yes, we have a very good school system. But much of that is due to the affluence of the community and the commitment of the parents to education. Is it really that much better than our surrounding communities where voter turnout was higher?
A couple of fun facts about the budget. Edgemont’s school budget increase was the 10th highest of 46 lower Hudson Valley districts (despite manipulating the capital budget) and the tax levy was the seventh highest. Add those statistics to having no long-term capital plan and I say it is time for the community to get involved. If they don’t, taxation without representation will not only continue, but is likely to get worse.