Local school budgets pass

Keene is closest; write-in shakes up Saranac Lake board election

Keene Town Council member Teresa Cheetham-Palen fills in her ballot during the school election Tuesday at Keene Central School. (Enterprise photo — Elizabeth Izzo)

Keene school administrators can breathe a sigh of relief.

Voters there narrowly approved a school budget that needed a 60% supermajority to pass — the only one in the greater Tri-Lakes area that exceeded the state tax cap — and they also squeaked through a capital construction project.

Long Lake voters also approved a capital project at their small K-12 school, by a margin of 23 votes.

All the other local school budgets and ballot measures passed with wide margins of voter approval Tuesday, which was school district election day statewide.

School board members, new and incumbent, were also approved, although there were no contested races locally. In Saranac Lake there weren’t even enough candidates — just one running with two seats open — which left one position up for write-ins. The write-in winner, Mark Farmer, hadn’t announced by press time whether he will serve the term.

Saranac Lake resident Kathy Merritt places her vote at Saranac Lake High School Tuesday. (Enterprise photo — Kevin Shea)


Voters approved the $6.3 million Keene Central School budget with 65.2%, or 208, voting yes and 110 voting no. Approximately 319 people cast ballots there Tuesday.

Keene’s budget proposal was the only one in the greater Tri-Lakes area that required a supermajority vote, or at least 60%, to pass. That’s because the state tax cap set for the district was minus 4.28%, and the school proposed a levy increase of 1.62%. Most districts have a tax cap which allows them to increase their tax levy, or the amount of taxes they collect, by roughly 2%, but school districts get many local adjustments.

Surrounded by students' art, residents vote in their school election Tuesday in the Tupper Lake Middle-High School library. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

The projected tax rate attached to Keene’s 2019-20 budget is $9.60 per $1,000 in assessed value, or $1,920 on a property assessed at $200,000 — but the final tax rate will be solidified once the tax rolls are finalized in the fall.

Voters also narrowly approved a $7.8 million capital project with 53% support, 171 yes to 148 no. It will include a new classroom for STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) courses, an addition to the fitness classroom and main offices, and renovations to the media classroom and auditorium. It will also include improvements to the school’s roof, masonry, infrastructure and information technologies. The athletic fields will be reconstructed, sanitary and drainage systems will be improved, and an underground propane storage tank will be installed.

District officials will now move ahead to prepare final designs, set to be submitted to the state Education Department for approval next February. Construction is slated to begin in March 2021.

Two new school board members, Molly Jacobson (272 votes) and Jennifer Kazmierczak (260 votes), were elected to fill seats vacated by Ann Whitney and John Haverlick.

Lake Placid resident Kelly Locke fills out a ballot at Lake Placid Elementary School Tuesday. (Enterprise photo — Elizabeth Izzo)

Saranac Lake

There will be a new member on the Saranac Lake Board of Education, but voters won’t know who it is until perhaps sometime today.

Current Board of Education member Clyde Baker decided not to run for another term, and no one stepped up to run, leaving the new member to be picked through a write-in by voters on Tuesday.

Currently, the write-in candidate with the most votes is Farmer with 18 votes. The former athletic director and high school dean of students was asked Tuesday night if he would take the position, but he said he would need the night to decide.

If he decides not to take the job, it will be offered to the write-in candidate with the next most votes. That would be Darralyn Wenske with 15. After comes Baker with eight, but he said he would not take the job.

Voters approved a roughly $1,750,000 spending increase, resulting in a $33.5 million budget for the Saranac Lake Central School District with 413 voting for and 111 voting against.

Voters approved a tax levy increase of 5.58% that is higher than usual due to an ongoing abatement project, for which the district borrowed state money. The school is receiving less state aid this year and will also put more money toward paying back $9.7 million it has borrowed. The levy still meets the tax cap because the district would receive less state aid next school year.

“I think it’s important that we fund schools, especially rural schools,” Joseph Henderson said. “As a parent, so far I’ve been impressed with the education my kids have been getting.”

Other voters expressed their support for the library.

“I’ve been getting books from the library my whole life,” said Mallory Catillaz.

Proposition 1, to approve the district to levy $262,847 in taxes for the Saranac Lake Free Library, passed with 433 votes for and 88 against.

Proposition 2, to approve the purchase of three 65-passenger buses for no more than $285,000, passed with 441 votes for and 83 against.

Tupper Lake

The Tupper Lake Central School District’s budget included funds to hire two school resource officers, armed village police officers stationed in both L.P. Quinn Elementary school and the middle-high school. Voters passed the $19,432,445 spending plan Tuesday.

A total of 380 voters showed up — 100 more than last year, according to school Business Administrator Dan Bower — with 324 (85%) voting yes and 55 voting no.

“Obviously we’re happy that we can move forward,” Bower said. “It’s good news.”

Total spending is up $713,224, 3.81% higher than the last budget. The tax levy is estimated to be $8,617,707, an increase of 2.1%, which puts the district at its tax cap.

Proposition 1, which asked to let the district borrow money to buy two new buses and a Zamboni, passed with 309 votes (82%) for it and 70 against. The district asks to borrow money for buses every year, and added the Zamboni this year for the ice rink at the Tupper Lake Civic Center, which the school district owns.

David Dewyea, who was running unopposed for re-election on the Board of Education, was successful with 349 votes. There were also two write-in votes.

Lake Placid

The Lake Placid Central School District’s $19.2 million budget was approved by voters 316 to 60 on Tuesday, with 376 total ballots cast.

The district will levy $15.9 million from taxpayers in the 2019-20 fiscal year to fund the budget, an increase of 2.1%. The projected tax rate is $7 per $1,000 in assessed value, or $1,400 on a property assessed at $200,000.

Taxpayers there are set to receive rebate checks this year since the district’s budget is at the state tax cap.

School board incumbents Richard Preston and Bryan Liam Kennelly ran unopposed and were re-elected by voters.

Ballot propositions were approved for permission to lease three new buses (328 yes, 48 no) and to contribute $14,250 to the Wilmington E.M. Cooper Memorial Public Library (326 yes, 48 no).

Long Lake

A $3.5 million capital project to reconstruct various district buildings and facilities at Long Lake Central School passed with 120 votes for it and 97 against.

The district’s $4.18 million budget passed Tuesday with 153 votes for it, 63 against and two spoiled.

The new budget increases spending $117,768 over the current year. The tax levy for 2019-20 is $2.91 million. With an increase of 2.42%, or $69,000, that puts the district below the state tax cap of 2.45%.

Joan Paula won election to the Board of Education with 125 votes, taking on a five-year term for a seat currently held by Frederick Short. Jodi Luxford received 79 votes. Timothy Touchette, John Adams, Gary Baker and Tony Clark each received one write-in vote, and there were eight spoiled votes.

AuSable Valley

An almost $34 million school budget with a 2.62% increase to the tax levy was approved by voters in the AuSable Valley Central School District. The budget was passed 320 to 79.

All three incumbents for the Board of Education — Scott R. Bombard, Susan J. Richards and David B. Whitford — won re-election, as they ran unopposed.