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Turf field approved, incumbents re-elected in Saranac Lake

Budget passed by wide margin

Swae Connor, a senior at Saranac Lake High School, casts her ballot in the Saranac Lake Central School District budget, proposition and board election vote on Tuesday. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Marbone)

SARANAC LAKE — Voters in the Saranac Lake Central School District on Tuesday voted to approve the school’s $37.3 million budget proposal and to approve a controversial proposition to convert a grass field inside the high school track to an artificial turf field. Voters also re-elected incumbents Nancy Bernstein, Justin Garwood and Tori Thurston to the school board.

The $37.3 million budget passed easily with 83.7% of the vote – 1,212 “yes” votes to 236 “no.” It was the propositions surrounding the proposed upgrades to the high school athletic field that were more contentious.

Supporters said artificial turf would be a boon for young athletes, extending the time period that they’re able to practice and play outdoors in the spring and fall, increasing the use of the field by more teams, reducing maintenance, potentially discouraging geese from flocking and defecating there and providing an overall better playing space.

Opponents had health and environmental concerns about turf, which can contain PFAS “forever chemicals” with numerous health risks, and are known for causing more injuries in professional sports.

The vote approving the artificial turf field, lights and scoreboard was a narrow one. It was approved with just a 53.59% majority. With 1,478 total votes, 792 voted for the turf and 686 voted against it.

A secondary proposition, to authorize the purchase of bleachers for this field at a maximum cost of $1.25 million, passed by a slightly larger margin – 58.8%, or 862 to 604.

Board election

Seven candidates ran for three school board seats: Incumbents Justin Garwood, Tori Thurston and Nancy Bernstein, and challengers Scott McKim, Patrick Dupree, Jackie Niederbuhl and Rebecca Law.

Garwood earned the most votes, with 989. Bernstein earned 832. Thurston earned 560. These three will keep their seats, which expire in 2027.

McKim came the closest to unseating one of the incumbents, with 495 votes. Niederbuhl earned 460 votes. Law earned 419 votes. Dupree earned 389 votes.

Dupree, Niederbuhl and Law were all running with a focus on keeping Bloomingdale Elementary School viable in the future after consultants recommended the board of education consider closing it in a few years.

The field project

The turf, lights and scoreboard project will not increase local taxes and could be complete by the fall of 2025. The project will use $2.8 million of the district’s $3.8 million Capital Reserve Fund — a construction fund for borrowing money — along with $397,563 in additional capital funds.

State aid should offset the cost of borrowing, leaving no local taxpayer impact.

The bleachers and press box project could only be approved if the field proposition was approved. This one carries a cost for local taxpayers. The total estimated cost of the project can not exceed $1,250,000.

The district will take out a $1.25 million loan to be paid off over 15 years.

This is estimated to have an $8 per year impact for someone who owns a $200,000 home in the district. Property owners with STAR exemptions would have a $7 impact and those with senior exemptions would have a $4 impact.

Other propositions

Voters also widely approved the purchase of two buses and one van with the price to not exceed $335,000, with 87.94% of voters approving it.

A proposition to borrow up to $2.3 million to conduct an energy performance contract involving upgrades to school buildings passed with 85.49% of the vote.

A proposition allowing the district to levy $511,895 in taxes on behalf of the Saranac Lake Free Library was approved with 80% of the vote.

The budget

The passed budget is $1.3 million, or 3.61%, higher than the previous budget.

The budget falls below the state-imposed tax cap. It carries a tax levy of $24,492,938, with an estimated tax rate of around $8.20 per $1,000 in assessed value, 28 cents higher than this year’s tax rate. For a person with a $300,000 home in SLCSD, school taxes would be approximately $2,460, an increase of roughly $84.

It will pull $2.37 million from the unassigned fund balance.

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