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Pelham School Board Reduces Tax Levy to 2.6%

PELHAM, N.Y. — The Pelham Board of Education unanimously adopted the 2012-13 school budget at a meeting Monday in Pelham Memorial High School’s newly dedicated Alumni Hall. Board members approved a $65,560,607 spending plan and reduced the tax levy increase from 2.88 percent to 2.6 percent.

After much debate, board members decided to use an additional $150,000 from the ERS (Employees’ Retirement System) pension reserves, bringing the total to $650,000, in order to lower the tax levy increase from 2.88 percent.

Robert Eicher, president of the Pelham Board of Education, spearheaded the decision and garnered the support of Doug Hearle and Will Cavanagh in the early going of the conversation. However, he faced opposition from Peggy O’Leary and other board members who did not want to take any additional money from the fund because of the economy and the possibility that New York State could raise the pension levels.

Eicher staunchly held his position, stating that it is “reasonable to assume right now that these [pension] costs are at their peak and should be flat or coming down over the next coming years.”

He then brought up the purpose of the fund.

“This money was put into this reserve to be used on a rainy day,” said Eicher. “If not now, I’m not sure when that rainy day is. I agree that the economy certainly isn’t running on both feet as fast as it can right now, but certainly, compared to where we were three years ago, we’re in a much better spot. So my question is if you didn’t use it now, when would you use it?”

Hearle asked Eicher if he felt the community would be ready to embrace a 2.88 percent tax levy increase, or “are we gonna have a fight on our hands at that point?” Hearle said that he thought 2.88 percent was “reasonable” and if it were knocked down, it would be an “easy sale for the community.”

Cavanagh said that, based on a survey that the board commissioned, “the community has confidence in the board and they would support 2.88 percent.”

The board decided to take a poll, showing that Cavanagh, Eicher and Hearle supported an additional $200,000, which would have brought the tax levy increase down to 2.51 percent. The other board members did not agree, and they settled on an extra $150,000 — bringing the total to $650,000 and the tax levy increase to 2.6 percent.

The budget increased 3.75 percent from the 2011-12 spending plan of $63,189,318.

Pelham has an allowable tax levy increase of 3.05 percent because of assessed value growth in the town. The next phase in the budget process will take place from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. May 15, when the community votes on the school budget and board seats in the Pelham Memorial gymnasium.

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