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Tax cap override a win for schools, but were taxpayers 'thrown under the bus'?

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For the first time since its inception 10 years ago, Rochester's tax cap was overridden.

ROCHESTER - The city of Rochester made history on Tuesday night, but some would say not in a good way.

The city's tax cap, designed to protect residents from tax spikes while reining in public spending, was overridden by a 9-5 supermajority vote for the first time since it was enacted by voters in 2008.

Without the override, Rochester school officials had said they would have had to cut some 25 position.

During a brief, sometimes brusque 26-minute meeting, city finance officials sought to explain how they had reduced the original override figure from just over $3 million to $1.7 million, leading to some confusion among City Councilors.

Much of the override reduction came from transferring nearly $900,000 in Waste Management host agreement revenue over to the schools, which is money that could've gone toward reducing taxes, said Councilor Ralph Torr, who voted against the override.

"They took Waste Management money that would've lowered taxes and turned around and gave it to the school department," Torr said today.

Torr added that the override was supposed to be for "emergencies" only and that perennial rises in education funding - even if its caused by decreasing state subsidies - does not constitute an emergency situation.

"You watch next year, they'll do the same thing," he said.

The override was part of an overall $132 million city and schools budget for fiscal year 2018-19 which begins July 1.

The increase in the mil rate within the new budget is $1.24 while the new mil rate of $27.57 will put the total annual property tax cost of a typical $150,000 home in the city to around $4135.50. That same $150,000 home would see an annual property tax increase of about $190.

Voting to approve the overall budget and to override the tax cap were Mayor Caroline McCarley, Deputy Mayor Ray Varney and councilors Sandra Keans, Donna Bogan, Tom Abbott, Pete Lachapelle, Jeremy Hutchinson, Elaine Lauterborn and Dave Walker.

Voting against the budget and the override were Robert Gates, Jim Gray, Geoffrey Hamann and Torr.

As the vote was tabulated a large contingent of school officials, teachers, staff and students who had packed City Hall chambers erupted in cheers.

City Councilor Elaine Lauterborn, who voted in the majority, said she was glad they were able to pare the override amount down to $1.7 million and would've had a hard time voting for it if it hadn't been reduced.

"Once it was down to $1.7 million I felt that it was the right thing to do," Lauterborn said today."

Lauterborn also took exception that it had be an "emergency situation" to invoke the override, adding, "To my knowledge there doesn't have to be an emergency. We always have the right to override. I think we did a good job without overriding it for 10 years. Now we get a restart."

The former state legislator said much of the financial stress on the schools has been a result of a shrinking of revenue sharing from the state. She said she'll be running for a legislative seat in Concord this fall, in part, to try to rectify the situation of shrinking state aid to education.

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