Press-Republican

May 13, 2013

ELCS tax levy up almost 4%

School also struggling with retirement, benefit costs

By ALVIN REINER
Press-Republican

---- — ELIZABETHTOWN — Elizabethtown-Lewis Central School has been able to keep its 2013-14 budget increase under the amount allowed by New York state.

The proposed budget totals $7,683,421, up 3.5 percent from this year.

The tax levy, which is the amount raised by property taxes, is $3,473,640, an increase of 3.99 percent.

The state formula allows an increase of up to 4.28.

“It was important for us to build a budget plan where we are able to maintain essential programs yet still demonstrate fiscal responsibility to our communities,” said new ELCS Superintendent Scott Osborne.

The tax rate per $1,000 of assessed property value is $13.55, up 4 percent.

The total of assessed value for the district is $256,402,800, with tax-exempt property valued at $135,604,400.

USE OF FUND BALANCE 

“The state continues to suffocate our financial standing,” Osborne said. “While some state aid was restored in the enacted state budget, we’re still forced to commit $500,000 of our reserves toward the problem.

“As we do that, we deplete our reserves, which we consider our financial ‘shock absorber’ in the event we experience a spike in fuel prices, a broken-down bus or some other unforeseen expense that we cannot control.

“If the state continues to underfund its public schools, we’ll need to rely on our reserves even more,” Osborne said. “As we rely on our reserves, they will eventually run out. It’s quite possible in the foreseeable future we won’t have the fund balance to offset the problem.”

RISING COSTS

Several areas responsible for major increases include: BOCES services, up $42,943, though the district was originally projecting an increase of $63,000; health-insurance costs, up $183,768; Medicare reimbursement, $3,500 higher; liability insurance, a $1,023 increase; Employee Retirement System, up $8,627; and the Teacher Retirement System, up $79,394.

STAFF, SPENDING CUTS

Cuts in staff or programs were proposed in two levels in designing the 2013-14 spending plan.

Reductions in Level 1 were aimed to reduce supplies, materials and services in efforts to operate the district with more efficiency.

Level 2 reductions addressed staffing positions. Job eliminations were accomplished by attrition when possible. In addition, 2.5 instructional positions have been reduced and a full-time support staff position has been changed to half time.

The amount budgeted for salaries decreased $18,330, due to retirements, reduced employment and recent restructuring of administration, moving from three administrators to two.

Spending on Social Security, supplies, materials and contractual costs was reduced by $25,099. Debt service dropped $8,800, as the district refinanced its bonds last year.

Fuel costs were reduced $3,800. ELCS purchases its fuel cooperatively through BOCES, and the bid price was lower than anticipated.

COST IMPACT

Osborne said two major factors contributed to financial woes.

Fixed costs associated with contractual obligations, such as salaries, benefits, health insurance and Retirement System contributions, are rising.

In addition, state aid has been decreasing over the years.

“This was an abnormal year where we experienced a slight restoration in our state aid when the Legislature agreed on a state budget,” Osborne said. “However, we are still forced to take large amounts from our reserves to use as a revenue source due to depleting state aid.”

The upcoming EXCEL capital renovation project, approved by the voters on March 5, is not a component of the budget. The money comes from state building aid, one-time funding from the state and a 16-year bond.

BALANCE

“We strive to implement a public school program of high quality and cost-effectiveness,” Osborne said. “This proposed budget brings balance to our spending plan for next school year.

“The staff and community provided suggestions as to how we could streamline our operations and work more efficiently. Those suggestions helped us reduce approximately $285,000 in expenditures, which ultimately supports a more balanced budget for everyone in the big picture.

“There will be impact to academic and extra-curricular programs. In the event a program is impacted, the program will be reduced rather than eliminated; that’s a big difference in how you look at it.

“While we may have to adjust our course offerings in certain subjects, we aren’t eliminating whole programs,” he added.

“It’s important for us now, and will be even more so, to continue pursuing regional partnerships to provide instruction for our students and support operations for our school districts.

“When we partner with neighboring school districts, we’re looking for win-win situations for students.”

BUS PURCHASE

Voters will also consider a separate proposition for the purchase of a 30-passenger school bus. The cost is not to exceed $66,000. This will be paid back over five years, with about two-thirds (67.2 percent) reimbursed through state aid.

Incumbent Karin DeMuro is running unopposed for School Board. 

The public hearing on the budget will be held at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in the ELCS conference room.

The budget vote will be noon to 8 p.m. Tuesday, May 21, in the ELCS main lobby.

Email Alvin Reiner at:rondackrambler@yahoo.com