At the time, local officials actually launched a campaign to encourage voters to turn down the proposal, in order to give the Township Council and the Board of Education time to come up with a better spending plan.
Last week, the local school district officially received state approval on a $19.2 million budget that sliced approximately $310,000 off the original one (from $1.7 million raised via taxes to $1.4 million) and calls for a less invasive tax increase, more like $170 per household with an assessed value of $140,000.
The tax bills for the upcoming year will be sent out in October.
The budget was adopted by the Township Council at the regularly scheduled council meeting Wednesday and received approval by both the county and state education departments soon after.
Part of the reason for the budget crunch was that Gov. Jon Corzine presented a host of cuts to the state budget last month.
Corzine decided to eliminate funding for districts that were considered "rim districts," areas that border urban Abbott special-needs districts.
Weehawken was one of the six municipalities in the state (North Bergen and Bayonne being others) that originally received the "rim district" funding due to state legislation passed last July.
Weehawken was originally slated to receive nearly $770,000 in "rim district" funding for 2006-07, but as the Board of Education was preparing its annual budget, Superintendent of Schools Kevin McLellan was notified by the state Department of Education that the funding would not be available.
"It was supposed to be guaranteed to the township," McLellan said. "It was signed into law. It's just not fair. It changes the rules of the game in the middle of the game."
McLellan added, "We scoped every line item of the budget and pursued every source of income possible. We feel we've done the best job possible, considering the circumstances."
The first step the district did was to take $130,000 of accrued surplus money and apply it to this year's budget.
"It was money that was set aside through different grants and money we didn't spend in making improvements over the past few years," McLellan said. "We plugged that money right back in to help the tax rate."
Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner said that some of that $130,000 was set aside to purchase a new school bus, a move that has now been delayed because of the budget crunch.
"We also had $40,000 in some construction costs that we also postponed for the time being," Turner said.
Also part of the cutbacks was $50,000 in administrative costs and $17,000 in extra curricular costs.
McLellan said that an additional $95,000 was saved when a basic skills teaching position at the Roosevelt School was not refilled after a teacher retired.
"There were also a number of line items, like supplies and such," McLellan said. "But the cuts will have no effect on programs."
The district also received an additional $47,000 in extraordinary special education aid from the state Department of Education, designed for districts that exceed $40,000 in special education expenditures in a school year.
No dice with state
McLellan and Turner both said that the district appealed to state legislators about the restoration of the "rim" funding, but the pleas fell on deaf ears.
"We tried to petition our legislators, even the governor," McLellan said. "But because of the situation with the state budget, the idea wasn't even addressed. We're not getting that money."
"It's a dead issue for this year," Turner said.
The Township Council also did its part to help the schools. They are putting $400,000 raised in municipal taxes into the school budget. Part of the reason for that move is that the Riva Pointe luxury condominium complex is being completed on the waterfront. The additional condos, which are slated for occupancy this fall, will go onto the tax books beginning in January, 2007, meaning new tax income and ratables for the township.
"So for this tax cycle, we were able to help the schools and get it back when Riva Pointe comes on board in January," Turner said.
Turner said that the tax increase represents a hike "right around the cost of living."
"It's still a tax increase and a high increase, but not as high as anticipated," Turner said. "We made a commitment to have the municipal budget offset the school budget impact and we did that."
Turner said that another key aspect to the municipal budget was the restoration by Corzine of the REAP funding that is given to municipalities that participate in regionalized programs, like the North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue.
For the last five years, homeowners have received tax credits for being part of the NHRFR. Corzine's original plans called for the elimination of the REAP program, but has since been restored. Weehawken plans to receive more than $700,000 in tax benefits with that addition.
New Board of Ed committees
Turner also announced the addition of two new committees related to the Board of Education that will help stimulate activity among the schools.
There will be a new Friends of the Weehawken School System, which will be a private entity that would be able to raise funds for special programs and projects outside of the auspices of the Board of Education.
There will also be a new Parents Participation and Involvement Committee, designed to get more parental involvement in the seventh and eighth grade ranks and the high school. There are already such organizations at the two elementary schools, namely Roosevelt and Webster Schools.
"This group can also do fundraisers for extra curricular activities, but at the high school," Turner said.
The new committees will include members of the Township Council, members of the Board of Education, and other appointed members of the community, especially those who have children in the schools.
"It's just a way to get more people involved," Turner said.
McLellan said that he was pleased to come up with a better budget option.
"I think it shows that we can run an austere program within our schools," McLellan said.