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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, September 23, 2010

Reduced BKW bus proposition passes by a landslide

By Zach Simeone

BERNE — The Berne-Knox-Westerlo School District will get its new buses after all.

On Tuesday night, a majority of voters approved the reduced bus proposition by a landslide, with nearly twice as many in favor as were opposed. A total of 337 votes came in, with 223 for the purchase, and 114 against.

On May 18, the original bus proposition was voted down, along with the proposed 2010-11 budget. The board subsequently adopted a $19.6-million contingency budget.

The school district covers 126 square miles. Last year, the district’s buses traveled a total 670,000 miles.

In passing the proposition, voters approved paying an estimated $305,000 for two 66-passenger buses, and two 28-passenger buses; $105,000 will come from the district’s transportation reserve, with $200,000 to be bonded over five years. About 70 percent of the cost will be covered by state transportation aid over those five years.

“I’m very happy,” said BKW’s school board president, Maureen Sikule, after the tallies were announced in the high school auditorium on Tuesday night. “I think it passed because it didn’t have the overshadowing of the regular budget vote, and you also don’t have as much going on with the state legislature. The angst has kind of died down a little bit.”

Board members had said that they thought the bus proposition was voted down because the importance of the purchase was not properly communicated to district residents throughout the budget process, and because of their anger towards the proposed 6.7-percent tax levy increase.

The approved proposition will not affect the tax levy; last month, the board decided to use more of the district’s unexpended fund balance to reduce the levy.

When the board passed a $19.6-million contingency budget in May, the plan was to raise the tax levy by 6.5 percent, to $10,525,791.

Kevin Callagy, BKW’s business official, had recommended that the district appropriate an additional $155,000 from its fund balance, or rainy day account, to take a total of $1,145,000 from the fund balance for the 2010-11 budget. There will be $1,021,833 left in the fund balance.

Taking Callagy’s advice, the school board approved a reduced tax levy last month: $10,370,791, an increase of 4.97 percent from last year’s budget.

The original bus proposition would have allowed the purchase of two 66-passenger buses, two 28-passenger buses, and one wheelchair-accessible bus for a cost not to exceed $365,000. Of the total cost, $200,000 was to be covered by funds from the district’s transportation reserve, which held $500,000, and the remaining $165,000 would be bonded over five years.

That proposition failed by a vote of 556 to 513.

Throughout the budget process this spring, district residents heard at school board meetings that this year’s bus proposition was particularly important since the vehicles on the ballot were old enough that the district would be saving money, as these vehicles would not have to be adjusted to meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s new diesel emission standards. David Clark, who works in BKW’s bus garage, estimated then that purchasing these buses would have meant between $7,500 and $8,000 in savings per bus.

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