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Lowville school taxes expected to again remain stable

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LOWVILLE — Property owners in the Lowville Academy and Central School District should once again see little change — or possibly even a drop — in their school tax bills, thanks to wind-farm funding.

“It’s been a tremendous asset to the district,” said District Superintendent Kenneth J. McAuliffe, referring to a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement on the 195-turbine Maple Ridge Wind Farm.

The Board of Education recently approved a tax warrant, setting the levy, or amount to be collected in taxes, at $3.85 million, the same as it has been for the previous six years.

The district’s full assessed value increased from $453.55 million to $470.66 million. That caused the full-value tax rate to drop from $8.23 per $1,000 of assessed value to $7.91 per $1,000.

“This is your real indication of what the PILOT is doing,” Mr. McAuliffe said.

According to an example calculated by district officials, the owner of a home in Lowville with an assessed value of $118,500 would see a school tax decrease of $33.49, from $797.44 to $763.95.

Examples from the town of Watson also show slight tax decreases, while Martinsburg residents may see a slight increase because of a drop in the town’s equalization rate from 100 percent to 94 percent.

While the district has received about $4 million annually from the 15-year wind farm PILOT through its first five years, that is to drop to about $3.5 million, beginning with the next payment at the end of December, because of the way the agreement was structured. However, Board of Education members were aware of that front-loading and factored that into their long-term fiscal planning, Mr. McAuliffe has said.

Board members have also approved the transfer of $500,000 from general reserves into a capital reserve fund, authorized by district voters in May, in which up to $1.5 million may be set aside.

Mr. McAuliffe, who plans to retire at the end of this month, said he is pleased to leave the district in solid fiscal shape, although he would have liked to see proposed state legislation allowing the district to create a tax stabilization reserve fund get passed before he left. He will be replaced by Elementary Principal Cheryl R. Steckly, who will serve as interim superintendent for a year before deciding whether to stay in the position permanently.

Board members have also approved other administrative shifts for the 2012-13 school year.

Assistant Elementary Principal Marie L. Western will serve as interim elementary principal while continuing her duties as data coordinator for the district’s Race to the Top initiative. Christopher Riley, a longtime teacher and coach and head of the physical education department, will remain a department head but serve in a special assignment role to handle several administrative duties in the elementary school.

District officials plan to hire a physical education teacher to cover his teaching duties for the year.

Administrative interns Deborah Domagala and Stacey Petzoldt will also provide support.

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