P'burgh City School talks tax-levy limit - Press-Republican: Local News

P'burgh City School talks tax-levy limit

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Posted: Thursday, March 20, 2014 3:28 am

PLATTSBURGH — Plattsburgh City School District must work with a tax cap that is significantly lower than in years past. 

The district’s 2014-15 levy limit, which awaits approval from the Office of the State Comptroller, has been calculated at .16 percent, an increase of $32,545. 

“It is approximately, or effectively, a zero increase,” City School Associate Superintendent Jay Lebrun told the board at a recent meeting. 

The district’s 2013-14 levy increase was 2.49 percent; its allowable limit was 5.58 percent.

The board, Lebrun noted, will have to discuss whether it wishes to put before voters a 2014-15 budget that exceeds the cap. 

Each percentage increase in the levy generates about $203,000, the associate superintendent said. 

SALARY COSTS UNKNOWN

For a spending plan exceeding the tax cap to pass, it must have at least 60 percent voter approval, while a budget within the limit requires only a simple majority. If a district’s first proposal is voted down, it has one more chance to pass a plan before it must go to a contingency budget. 

In May 2012, city residents voted down the school’s proposed 2012-13 spending plan, which exceeded its then-3.01 percent cap by more than 2 percent. Voters later approved a plan for that year within the limit. 

While the district’s allowable tax-levy increase for 2014-15 is minimal, Lebrun noted, health-insurance rates are set to go up 3 percent; Workers Compensation, 8.5 percent; and Teacher Retirement System, 9.2 percent.

The school does not know its salary costs for next year because contracts for both its teachers’ and administrators’ unions are currently open. 

The district’s known expenditures, combined with the state aid figures reflected in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Executive Budget Proposal, Lebrun said, create a budget gap of about $2.7 million. 

However, he noted, “that’s not uncommon for this time of year. That will change.”

INFORMATION LACKING

The district is still waiting for some very important information, Lebrun continued, that “will ultimately define how big our gap and how serious our gap is and remains.”

For one, he said, the school won’t know its actual state-aid allowance until the approval of the state’s final budget, which is set for April 1. And the governor’s aid proposals, Lebrun noted, are historically conservative compared to the enacted spending plan. 

There has also been discussion at the state level about restoring some of the Gap Elimination Adjustment, which is aid that has been withheld from districts annually for the past four years. 

It has been proposed that the state restore $154,610 of the the City School’s 2014-15 Elimination Adjustment, which totals $1,662,673, according to Lebrun. 

The district is also in talks with an employee group about possible health-insurance reforms, he noted, but the outcome of those discussions will likely not be known before the board must adopt a spending plan. 

“As with state aid, the possible impact of that item is many hundreds of thousands of dollars, which again, could dramatically impact the current budget gap,” Lebrun said. 

‘COULD AFFECT PROGRAMS’

Board member Clayton Morris said at the meeting he would not vote in favor of exceeding the levy limit without the expressed support of the community. 

“I would need 1,000 people in this room, every one of them asking for a tax increase, before I would vote ‘yes’ to that,” he said. 

However, fellow member Steve Krieg, Board President Leisa Boise and Board Vice President Tracy Rotz said they wished to have a clearer picture of budgetary factors before deciding how to proceed with the levy. 

“I might actually vote to override the cap,” Krieg said. 

Staying within the levy limit may require programmatic cuts, noted board member Fred Wachtmeister. 

“If that were going to be the case, and we were going to be reducing educational programs, I would certainly support going above the levy limit and putting it out to the community to decide whether or not to fund the programs that we would be reducing,” he said. 

Email Ashleigh Livingston:alivingston@pressrepublican.com