January 28, 2016

New tax cap affects local school districts

busBob Ellis/staff photographer
Students board their school buses outside Dryden Elementary School Wednesday afternoon. With the state’s tax cap limiting increases in district levies, local school district officials said they are looking to alternatives to fund upcoming spending plans, including using reserve funds. Emily Shipe, Dryden Central School District business manager, expects the district to have sufficient funds remaining at the end of the 2015-16 school year.

Staff Reporter

With the state limiting school district tax levies to virtually no increase for the 2016-17 school year, officials of some local districts say they will have to use reserve funds and take other steps to fund their budgets for the coming school year.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a law following the 2012-13 school year limiting increases in school tax levies, or the total amount that can be raised through local property taxes, to either 2 percent or the rate of inflation — whichever is lower — based on the Consumer Price Index.
The latest CPI is 0.12 percent.
Emily Shipe, business manager for Dryden Central Schools, said that with the state effectively barring increases in property taxes for the coming school year, school districts are left to dip into dwindling reserves to cover routine operating expenses such as rising costs of benefits and salaries for employees.
Shipe said that the Dryden school district anticipates having enough funds left at the end of the 2015-16 school year to cover expenses. While she would not say how much is in reserve funds, she explained that school officials work hard to minimize how much is taken from the funds.
She said districts that do not have the built up reserve are relying on state aid, which in recent years has been reduced as the state worked to fill its own budget deficits.
“The nearly zero growth in the tax cap will limit budget options for school and municipal officials as they plan for next year,” state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said in announcing the new tax cap last week. “Although some local governments can rely on available reserve funds to bridge the gap, others may need to take a hard look at operations to find ways to cut costs to stay under the cap.”
The maximum allowable increase for current 2015-16 school budgets was 1.62 percent.
Overriding the tax cap requires the support of at least 60 percent of the voters for an annual district budget, or in the case of villages, towns, cities and counties, 60 percent of the membership of the municipal board.
Cortland Superintendent of Schools Michael Hoose said that the figures that are used to calculate the tax levy for individual schools must be submitted by the districts to the state by March 1.
Budget voting for Cortland schools is on May 19. All other districts hold their budget votes on May 17.
Hoose said that the school district is looking for guidance from the state comptroller as it navigates the budget process this year. He said that school officials will be having a webinar with the state Comptroller’s Office on Feb 3. Hoose said he would not have answers regarding the tax cap until after the webinar with the state comptroller and he had access to specific figures in the Cortland city schools budget regarding available fund balance and potential state aid.
Tom Goskoski, business official for Marathon Central School District, said Marathon is budgeting for no tax levyincrease. He said that based on the governor’s proposal, the district believes it has enough in its budget without having to raise the tax levy. Money left over from the 2015-16 budget and state aid will help hold the line on the tax levy, Goskoski said Tuesday.

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