LAKE PLEASANT - It's the end of the line for a plan that would have merged the Lake Pleasant and Wells Central School districts.
The public had its first - and now, last - opportunity Tuesday to formally voice its opinion of the merger, and Lake Pleasant district residents voted 257-73 against it in a nonbinding referendum.
In Wells, the tally was 189 in favor and 60 against the merger. The proposal needed to two referendums in each district in order for the merger process to continue.
Norm Hoover of Speculator, above, departs a voting machine at Lake Pleasant Central School after deciding whether the school district should merge with Wells.
The Leader-Herald/Barbara Cook
John Zeis, interim superintendent for the Wells Central School District, received the unofficial count from Lake Pleasant before the votes had been counted in Wells.
"It went down bad in Lake Pleasant," he said to election officials, onlookers and Patrick Michel, superintendent of Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery Board of Cooperative Educational Services, who were waiting in the school cafeteria.
"Obviously in Lake Pleasant," Zeis said, "it was very difficult to get around the fact that their taxes were going to go up and Wells taxes were going to go down. I think the vote indicates that was a real problem to overcome."
In the first year under a merged district, taxes would have increased about $60 for a house in Lake Pleasant assessed at $100,000, according to merger documents. In Wells the tax rate would have decreased. After the first year, all properties in the merged district would have had the same tax rate.
Lake Pleasant Superintendent Ernest Virgil said the districts provided as much information as possible to the residents so they could make an informed decision.
"In everything that we had, we asked the people to come out, whether they were against it or whether they were for it, to let us know how they felt on the issue," he said.
The Lake Pleasant district has more than 500 registered school voters, according to Virgil. More than 300 voted, including 35 by absentee ballot.
"So I think they did what we asked them to do," he said. "We put it out to the public and they voted."
Lake Pleasant election officials said it was the biggest turnout since 2001 when the public voted to build the current school building. Usually about 160 people vote on the school budget.
Lake Pleasant, a K-9 district which had 92 students in 2009-10, sends most of its high-schoolers to Wells, which had 190 students. Some Lake Pleasant students are bused 50 miles south to Johnstown High School.
Funding high school programs in an era of reduced state aid and a tax-levy cap is an ongoing concern in Wells.
"We're going to try to go forward and maintain a high school, but it's going to be difficult," Zeis said. "But we're going to give it our best shot."
Wells and Lake Pleasant were among the six local districts considering mergers.
On Nov. 1, voters in the Oppenheim-Ephratah and St. Johnsville school districts voted to go ahead with the next step in a merger of their districts. A final referendum will be held Dec. 7, which will determine whether the merger is completed.
If voters in both school districts approve the merger in the final referendum, a new Board of Education will be elected and the districts will merge as of July 1, 2012.
The Northville and Mayfield school districts recently completed a merger study. Their Community Advisory Committees will meet in mid-December to review the draft report presented by the consultants leading the study.
Barbara Cook covers southern Hamilton County and rural Fulton County. She can be reached at email@example.com.