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Character education funding trimmed in Saratoga County budget

Chairman’s initiative reduced to $10K

Thursday, November 14, 2013
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— Saratoga County supervisors voted Thursday to scale back funding in next year’s budget for a proposed character and civility education program.

Funding for the “chairman’s initiative” — a teaspoon of money within the bathtub of a $313.3 million proposed budget — was reduced Thursday from $33,000 to $10,000.

It took nearly a half-hour of discussion and was the only change supervisors made to the tentative budget during a workshop on the spending plan in Ballston Spa.

“I personally feel like this is something for the school districts,” said Supervisor John Collyer, R-Providence. “It isn’t something the Board of Supervisors should get involved in.”

A $33,000 line for character education was added to the budget last week by the Law and Finance Committee, which is chaired by Malta town Supervisor Paul Sausville, who may become chairman of the Board of Supervisors next year. He will become chairman only if re-elected by Malta voters — and he currently trails challenger Cynthia Young by four votes, though there are still some unopened, contested ballots.

By tradition, a new board chairman can launch a personal initiative, and Sausville has said he wants to do something next year that uses county resources to promote good character and civil public discourse. There were no firm plans for how the $33,000 would be spent.

“One way we could use that would be for an incentive for youngsters to come in and speak to the Board of Supervisors on character,” Sausville said.

“The ideas are open,” he said later. “[The money] could be used for a number of things to promote good character.”

At the workshop, several supervisors said providing character education — or listening to students talk about it — isn’t the board’s role. But a motion to remove the funding from the budget failed.

“I have a hard time spending money on something we should know about before we get into this business,” said Supervisor Arthur “Mo” Wright, R-Hadley.

A motion to reduce the funding allocation from $33,000 to $10,000 was then approved.

“There’s a lot you can do to partner with the towns without spending a lot of money,” said Supervisor Phil Barrett, R-Clifton Park.

The $10,000 will remain in the budget even if Sausville loses his election, though it doesn’t have to be spent.

The next discussion of the tentative budget will be at a public hearing at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 3, in the county boardrooms. A special meeting to vote on the spending plan’s approval is set for Dec. 11.

In the larger picture, the proposed budget would mean the average county property tax rate will rise by a penny per $1,000 assessed value, to $2.28. That means a home assessed at $200,000 would see a $2 tax increase on its annual bill in January.

The proposed $313.3 million budget is up from a $301 million budget this year — an increase county officials blamed on the cost of Medicaid, higher pension payments and other costs mandated by the state.

The budget includes $500,000 for implementing a new economic development plan for the county and $50,000 as the county share of what would be a comprehensive traffic management study for the area around the Luther Forest Technology Campus and Northway Exit 11 in Malta.

 
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