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Locals speak against Carthage district tax hike

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CARTHAGE — A handful of Carthage-area residents are not happy about paying more in taxes this year.

During the district’s budget hearing at Carthage High School’s auditorium Tuesday night, several audience members urged residents to vote against the $52.9 million budget, saying the 1 percent tax levy increase is unnecessary.

“The money that you have set aside, why can’t that money be used for the 1 percent?” asked Carthage resident Dorothy J. Schack.

She said she lives off her Social Security income and will not be able to afford the budget and capital construction tax increases. She claimed a district official encouraged her son to drop out of school and her daughter was discouraged from becoming a teacher.

“It’s too much. They can use what they got. The school isn’t that great,” she said. “I’m just upset with the school. I’m sorry. I’m just fed up with Carthage Central running the way it is.”

Business Manager Amy Marrocco said the state has tax relief programs, commonly known as STAR exemptions, to help people like Ms. Schack who cannot afford to pay the tax increase. According to the state Department of Taxation and Finance website, the basic STAR exemption is available if the annual household income is less than $500,000. That would be available to nearly all Carthage taxpayers already.

The enhanced STAR is geared toward residents older than 65 and exempts the first $62,000 of their home’s full value from school taxes.

More information can be found at www.tax.ny.gov/pit/property/star/index.htm.

“We’re hoping that with that help, people can pay,” she said.

Finance Committee member Charles A. Florence said he knows more people in the community who will not be able to afford the 1 percent increase. He does not think the increase is necessary and urged the handful of residents in the audience to tell their neighbors to vote against the budget.

“We won’t lose any of our staff positions with the zero percent. Our reserves are fully funded,” he said.

He accused board members who have spouses employed by the school of having a vested interest in the teachers’ salary. Board member Joseph A. Colangelo said three board members had voted against the levy increase.

Mr. Florence said he called several other school districts, including Indian River Central Schools and Watertown City Schools, to see if they employed a fine arts director. None of the schools he called had the position.

He claimed the position takes up $90,000 of the budget and is “without any added benefit for the school.”

Superintendent Judy L. Waligory would not confirm the position’s cost.

“Zero percent would go a long way in the public. You’ve got four teachers retiring that are not reflected in the budget,” said Finance Committee member Kent D. Burto.

Mrs. Waligory said that everyone worked hard on the budget, and that it was at the end of the budget deliberations when officials found out the district would not get as much state aid as expected.

Another Finance Committee member, David Moses, claimed the school’s spending is out of control and said he planned to vote against the budget.

“The voice of opposition: The next time you have the opportunity to do that, thank a veteran,” said board President Michael P. Chevier. “We’re not going to agree on anything.”

Residents can vote on the budget from noon to 9 p.m. Tuesday in the high school library.

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