OSWEGO, NY – Tuesday’s night public hearing on the 2013-14 Oswego City School District budget quickly digressed into a full-blown discussion for several minutes involving the speaker, board members, a union official and audience members.
Ralph Smith was the lone speaker for the evening. Usually, public hearings, public sessions are an opportunity for board members to listen to the public. There is no discourse between the board and speakers.
Tuesday, it seems, was the exception to the rule as anyone who wanted to speak, actively took part in the discussion regarding the budget, taxes and more.
“Taxes are too high. I think you can do a little better on cutting the budget,” he started.
The proposed budget that was approved by the board is $78,240,412. That is an increase over the current budget of $1,636,355. The tax rate increase is 2 percent. The budget also calls for a reduction of 8.6 positions.
“I hear you. I understand,” replied Jim Southard, the district’s business manager. “I’m a taxpayer, not in this district, but I know what you’re saying.”
“It’s getting ridiculous,” Smith said.
“Have you looked at our history over the last five years?” interjected Board President John Dunsmoor.
“I’ve lived here all my life,” Smith said.
“How’ve we done?” Dunsmoor asked.
“Poor,” Smith replied.
“We’ve cut taxes four years in a row,” Dunsmoor countered.
“No you haven’t. You just raised them 23 cents on $1,000 (assessed value),” Smith said.
That is the first time in five years, the board president pointed out.
The district needs to look at ways of raising funds and saving money where it can, according to Smith.
“We need to sell this building (Education Center) and we don’t need to buy property out on (Route) 481,” he said referring to the possible new site for the Big Picture School.
Property owned, in part, by Dunsmoor was deemed to be a suitable location for the school and the process took a step forward recently as the board approved, by a 5-0 vote, a conditional lease of the Northeast Sports Complex at 80 Dutch Road (just off 481) in the town of Scriba.
“We’re not buying that property,” Dunsmoor said Tuesday night.
Smith said he was speaking for other taxpayers “who pay a lot more than I do.”
“It’s either you’re poor or you’re rich in Oswego. There’s no such thing as middle class any more around here. Either you have the money to pay your taxes or you fall prey of HUD.”
He urged the board to work harder to cut taxes.
“I think I’ve worked very hard to cut your taxes from (a rate of) $21.32 when I first came on the board to 19.30 this year. That’s approximately over 10 percent in four years,” Dunsmoor said.
But it went back up, Smith noted.
“What’s your budget like in your home? Doesn’t it go like that (up some times and down others)?” asked Pam Dowd of the Leighton Home and School Association.
“No. I like my budget. I’d like to take a look at some of these guys’ budgets,” Smith said indicating the board members and administrators.
Smith questioned why football games couldn’t be played on Saturday mornings, instead of Friday nights under the lights.
You’d have to pay overtime to bring in the custodians for Saturday, Dunsmoor pointed out.
Smith stressed that paying the utility bill for the lights would probably be more expensive.
The sports schedule is set up by Section Three, board member Sam Tripp added.
Smith said there should be more cuts in the spending plan.
There are job cuts in the budget, Jim Jackson of the CSEA told Smith.
“Just those two custodial positions that we’re losing (in the 2013-14 budget) – that’s two jobs in the city of Oswego that will no longer be. You’ve got more people on HUD, more unemployed. Every time we try to attack a budget and reduce it … you’re going to cut bodies,” Jackson said. “You’re going to put more people out on the street.”
May 21: Public vote (from noon to 9 p.m.)
June 18: Statewide Budget Revote Day
July 1: Implement 2013-14 Budget