BUDGETS PASS. In all parts of GreeneLand on Tuesday, voters who turned out to rule on school budget proposals that were submitted to them by their district boards of education delivered strong majority support. They authorized, for the county’s six school districts, expenditures on public education during 2011-12 totaling $139.3 million. In doing so they were acquiescing in the prospect of increases--historically small increases, to be sure--in their taxes.
This show of support for school spending plans proved to be consistent with what occurred elsewhere. In New York State, outside the five big cities, there are 678 districts where outlays on public schools are subject to approval by local voters. On Tuesday, in response to proposals made by their locally-elected school trustees, in 634 of those districts, according to The New York Times, majorities of the voters said Yes.
Four of the other 44 districts are near GreeneLand. In Columbia County, according to The Register-Star, voters in the high-standards Ichabod Crane school district (Kinderhook area) rejected the board-proposed $33.8 million budget. So, by 1249 votes to 424, did Hudson voters. And in Ulster County, according to The Daily Freeman, refusers out-numbered assenters in the Pine Plains district, by 476 to 413, and in Saugerties, by 1631 to1369. [NOTE. The foregoing paragraph is a revision of what was published yesterday (5/20). The original text did not include Columbia County results].In GreeneLand, margins of support for those budget proposals ranged from comfortable (Cairo-Durham, 529 to 408) to overwhelming (Catskill, 565-301; Coxsackie- Athens, 854-449; Greenville, 582-255; Hunter-Tannersville, 181-97; Windham-Ashland-Jewett, 178-65). [Daily Mail, 5/18]
COST AND BURDENS
The school budgets that were adopted here on Tuesday offer substantial contrasts in financial ‘meaning’: cost per pupil, local tax burden per pupil. Some of those contrasts are brought out in statistics compiled from State Education Department figures by staff at the Empire Center for New York State Policy. Thus, in GreeneLand, with projected school enrollments in 2011-12 totaling 6760, and with Tuesday’s passage of district budgets, cost per pupil works out to $20,624. As between the six districts, however, cost per pupil will range from $16,452 (Coxsackie-Athens) to $34,171.
The high-cost district is Hunter-Tannersville. Next highest is Windham-Ashland-Jewett ($26,309 per pupil). Those districts are much smaller in enrollment (and substantially larger in space) than the other four. But the correlation between size of enrollment and cost per pupil is not neat. GreeneLand’s second largest district--Coxsackie-Athens, with 1525 students anticipated in 2011-12--also is the least expensive, and by a big margin. Its projected cost per pupil is $16,452. Cairo-Durham is third highest in student population (1458) while being second-lowest in cost per pupil ($16,685). Greenville’s school district is fourth in student body size (1286) and is fourth in cost per pupil ($20,276). As for Catskill, it is first in the county in enrollment (1702) and third in projected costs per pupil ($21,863).
No less interesting are inter-district contrasts, following adoptions of the new school budgets, in consequences for local property tax levies. Among GreeneLand’s six school districts, according to the Empire Center’s calculations, those costs will range from $7956 (Cairo-Durham) to $24,929 (Hunter-Tannersville).
PUPILS VS, PRISONERS
Our cost per pupil of public schooling, incidentally, is less than the cost per prisoner of incarceration. Nation-wide, the average is around $24,000 per inmate per year. In the big northern States such as California and New York, it’s more than $40,000. [Reuters, 5/20].
THE GREEN AT GREENE. GreeneLand’s foremost local bank, in the words of its president, Donald Gibson, experienced “strong” earnings during the latest three-month period.
According to the official company report, however, net income during January 1-March 30 was the same as the net during the first three months of 2010. That result ($1.2 million) marks a contrast to results in the same quarters of previous fiscal years. It suggests a drop in momentum. But the immediately preceding quarters of the 2010-11 period did show gains. Consequently, the nine months from July 1, 2010, to March 31, 2011, as compared with the same period in 2009-100, yielded an 8 per cent gain in net income. The raw score was $3.9 million.
The appearance of a slowdown in net income could be due to accounting precautions taken. Company executives evidently are preparing for an increase in loans that go sour. Thus:
*Provision for loan losses for the current financial year has been boosted over the same provision in 2009-10, by nearly 20 per cent to $1.2 million.
*Commercial loans extended by the bank have increased relative to residential loans, and those loans, as a general rule, are riskier.
*Properties owned by the bank in consequence of foreclosure action—owned but not earning a return--increased during that same period by $563,000.
*”Nonperforming” bank assets have enlarged. These are loans for which repayments have ceased while foreclosure actions, often stretching over two years from the time of commencement, have not reached completion. Their total book value at the end of March 2010 was put at $3.2 million. The new total is more than double the old one; $6.9 million. That increase, says Mr Gibson, “reflected the decline in the overall economy.” And it prompted an increase in the bank’s level of allowance for losses on loans that go sour relative to the value of the total portfolio. The new figure is 1.62%. The March 2010 allowance was 1.33%.
Those figures can be read as signs of trouble to come. They also can be read as signs of prudent anticipation.
Meanwhile, some contrasts are worth noting. The mammoth Bank of America, having previously closed its Germantown branch (which the Bank of Greene County took over, profitably) is closing its home-loan office in Saratoga, putting 34 people out of work. [TimesUnion, 5/4/11]. And the Bank of Greene County, unlike neighboring banks and other lenders, has avoided all of GreeneLand’s larger financial flops: Friar Tuck, Quality Inn, Shady Harbor Marina, Irving Elementary School makeover, Union Mills Lofts, Catskill Creek condominiums….
GreeneLand’s current fiscal health, says County Treasurer Peter Markou in his annual report, is sound. For 2010, while revenues declined, so did expenses. The debt burden did not get heavier.
Also in good fiscal health, according to another treasurer, is the GreeneLand’s Historical Society. Much of that condition, said David Dorpfeld at the Society’s annual meeting last Sunday, is due to the “very generous” bequest of IBM stock made by the late stalwart member, Olga Santora.
Those gasoline prices that are posted outside stations may apply only to payments in cash. Credit card purchases may cost more. The difference is posted on the pump itself, but it must be noticed there and then acted upon BEFORE refueling.The difference at a Catskill Getty station recently (5/16) was seven cents per gallon.