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Keene school proposes bigger budget

Capital project drives tax levy up 7.67%, which meets cap

Keene Central School (Enterprise photo — Antonio Olivero)

KEENE VALLEY — Keene Central School District administrators have proposed a more than $6.7 million budget for the upcoming school year that carries a tax levy increase of 7.67%.

The proposed 2021-2022 budget does meet the state tax cap, which was set at 7.67% for the district, according to Superintendent Dan Mayberry. That’s higher than in most other local districts, which have tax caps below 2%. The tax cap for each district is calculated with a formula that takes into account everything from a district’s cash on hand to the debt it carries. Mayberry said the reason the cap appears to be much higher is because last year the district didn’t have a capital project payment.

The estimated basic school tax relief (STAR) exemption savings under the proposed budget would be $275.

The district expects to spend $404,029 more in the next school year. Most of that increase is tied to the purchase of a new 30-passenger bus and a $325,000 payment toward the cost of the school’s ongoing capital project, which is estimated to cost about $7.8 million altogether.

The capital project includes new classrooms for STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) courses and fitness, an addition to the main offices, plus infrastructure improvements, tech upgrades and reconstruction of the athletic fields. Construction started in April, and most of the work is expected to be done by Jan. 1.

To fund the district’s 2021-22 budget as proposed, the district plans to spend $270,000 from its reserves. Property owners would collectively pay $5,695,040. Keene property owners would pay $10.43 per $1,000 in assessed value, up from $9.69 this year. Jay property owners would pay $8.76 per $1,000 in assessed value, down from $9.69 this year. These rates could change after Essex County releases updated tax rolls in August.

The tax rates in Keene and Jay are different this year because each town assesses properties differently. To ensure that each town’s taxpayers pay their fair share in school taxes, the state has something called an equalization rate, which equalizes each towns’ assessments to full market value to make up for any differences in how properties are assessed. The equalization rate has shifted.

The equalization rate for the town of Jay is 100% while in the town of Keene it’s 91.6%.

“(The state) notified us after tax collection that last year’s calculation was done with 100% and 100%,” Mayberry said. “That means that $1,322 of taxes paid last year need to shift to the town of Keene this year. Because Jay accounts for such a small part of the total land value, this caused their rate to shift dramatically. The state uses equalization rates to help ensure that each town accounts for its fair share of taxes by encouraging each town to be ‘fully’ assessed.”

A public hearing on the school budget is slated for 6:30 p.m. on Monday, May 10 at the school. Because of pandemic-related capacity limits, anyone who plans to attend in person must contact the school first at 518-576-4555 or secretary@keenecentralschool.org. The public hearing will also be livestreamed. A link to the stream will be on the school’s website at keenecentralschool.org.

The proposed budget will go before voters on Tuesday, May 18. Polls will be open at the school from noon to 8 p.m.

Also on the ballot will be one seat for the Keene Central School District Board of Education. Board member Aaron Miller has declined to seek reelection this year, according to Mayberry. There is one candidate to replace him: Emily Reynolds Bergh. Bergh is originally from Keene, and she attended Keene Central School as a child. She has two children attending school at KCS now. For the past 13 years, Bergh has worked in marketing and public relations. She has a master’s degree in social work.

Public hearing

¯ On what: Keene Central School District’s proposed 2021-22 budget

¯ When: Monday, May 10 at 6:30 p.m.

¯ Where: In person at Keene Central School, 33 Market St, Keene Valley (RSVP to 518-576-4555 or secretary@keenecentralschool.org), livestream at keenecentralschool.org

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