Staying within the state-mandated tax cap means the Voorheesville school district will have to cut around $630,000 from next year’s spending plan, and where those reductions are made will be decided in the coming months.
The Voorheesville Board of Education began reviewing the district’s 2014-15 budget projections Monday, Jan. 27, with tentative rollover expenses totaling around $23.4 million. To stay within its property tax levy limit, which is forecasted to increase 1.46 percent, board members would need to reduce the budget to just under $22.8 million. Expenditures are estimated to be increasing around 3.6 percent, or more than $818,000, and $600,000 would be tapped from reserve funds.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s recently proposed tax rebate program also adds more incentive for school districts to not exceed the tax cap, with homeowners refunded any property tax increase if all local government entities do not breach the imposed limits.
District officials said more funds from reserve accounts could be used to reduce the gap to stay within the tax cap limit.
Assistant Superintendent for Business Gregory Diefenbach said the proposed amount weans off fund balance usage, so reserve accounts are not drawn too low in coming years. This school year, the districted budgeted $700,000 of fund balance usage.
School officials, though, said there is mixed message between the governor pushing districts to draw down fund balances and the state comptroller cautioning against draining the accounts.
“There is pressure coming from the Governor’s Office in regards to … pushing school districts to spend as much of their reserve monies as he can get them to do,” board member C. James Coffin said.
Diefenbach and Coffin both said Cuomo is looking for more districts to consolidate.
“Everybody is being pushed … and (Cuomo) is squeezing us out of existence,” Coffin said. “He’s going to bury us in debt in order to get us to make the changes. That is what’s going on.”
Coffin said the district is facing “significant changes” in next year’s budget.
State aid to the district totals just over $5 million, representing an increase of almost $58,500, or 1.16 percent. The governor’s budget includes a 4 percent increase of school aid statewide.
The Voorheesville state aid increase would have been greater, but $127,000 from its building aid ($1.2 million) will be taken back through the state’s aid recalibration this year. Diefenbach said the district did submit a wavier from the reduced building aid to the state.
The state is restoring almost $20,750 from the district’s Gap Elimination Adjust, with more than $800,000 of aid remaining withheld.
Diefenbach said the district could receive more state aid before the final budget is adopted.
“The Assembly and Senate have not weighed in yet,” Diefenbach said. “That’s the dance that starts now.”
Colleen Zeliph, sectary for the Voorheesville PTA, urged the district to create a survey, similar to what was crafted at the elementary school, for the community to share their opinions. The elementary school survey, while prepared, has not been released.
“Sometimes you need hand (people) the tool to give them their voice,” Zeliph said.
Board President Timothy Blow said weighing what the community values against what it can offer students “is very important” when developing the budget.
“We can’t necessarily do everything that we would like to do,” Blow said.