School Board Eliminates Budget Vote, Moves Elections To November
Board votes to get rid of “stomach ache Aprils”
Taxpayers in Mahwah will no longer vote on annual school budgets, so long as they comply with the state’s two percent tax levy cap. As part of the board’s decision at its Wednesday night meeting, school board elections in the township will be moved to November. Voters will see one ballot a year - voting on municipal, county, state, national and now school board positions all at the same time.
The decision was a reaction to a new state law recently signed by Governor Chris Christie giving school boards throughout the state the option of changing the vote to November, or keeping the current practices in tact.
Of the seven school board members at Wednesday’s meeting, six voted for the change. The sole opponent, Peter Wendrychowicz, said he felt taking away the budget vote was “disenfranchising taxpayers in the Mahwah community. The voters have a history of being very supportive and trustworthy of the board and its budgets, and I think they have the right to vote on them.”
The rest of the board expressed the sentiment that a vote on a budget that comes in at or under a two-percent tax levy cap wouldn’t have much of an effect.
“We are elected. I feel confident that the people who elected us are comfortable with the decisions we make about the budget,” Board President Tricia Shada said.
School Board Business Administrator Ed Deptula said the board can now operate the same way other elected boards in the town and county do. “You [have] the opportunity to plan and to operate within the two percent cap, without that fear that the budget might fail.”
Shada said the board will be rid of “stomach ache Aprils,” during which members worry that a budget that falls within the two percent cap is defeated by voters, which would cause the district to lose thousands of dollars. While most of the board touted its “fiscal responsibility,” Wendrychowicz said he has “faith in the community” to approve fair budgets.
Board Vice President Chuck Saldarini said he saw the vote “as saying let’s see how this works for the next four years, not forever,” as it is written into the new law that the board has the ability to go back to the April-voting system after four elections. “If at that time the community really thinks a vote on the budget is absolutely something it needs, we can go from there.”
The board ultimately said it was taking the nod from the state’s legislature, who decided school budget votes within the cap were no longer necessary.
If the board wants to spend more than the cap allows, it would need to put together a budget that came in under the cap, and then put the additional spending on a referendum vote in November. The ballot question “would be a yay or nay, and we either get to do it or we don’t,” Deptula explained.
The rest of the budget process will remain the same, the board said. The board still needs to approve a preliminary budget by the end of February, a permanent budget by the end of March, and hold public hearings on the budget throughout the process. The board said typically, 20 residents or less come to its budget meetings.
The move would also eliminate the costs to the board of holding its own annual April elections, which Deptula said costs about $28-$30,000 a year.
Also as a result of Wednesday’s vote, the three board members who would have been up for election this April - Candace Larson, Christine Davis and John Dolan – will serve through January 2013. Those seats on the board will appear in their own section of the November ballot, separated from municipal and other positions up for a vote.