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Potsdam Central’s fund balance and reserves may run dry in 2.5 years

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POTSDAM - Should the Potsdam Central School District use $1.6 million from their reserves and fund balance again this year and next year, three years down the road only about $800,000 would be left in the district’s savings, the district’s business manager told board of education members Tuesday night.

As the district is working to close a $1.4 million budget gap, some in the community have suggested using more of their fund balance to help offset what may be as many 25 jobs lost.

Laura Hart, who serves as the district’s business manager, said of the $1.6 million put into the 2011-12 budget she’s only anticipating having roughly $500,000 of that left at the end of the year.

When that number is added to the district’s reserve accounts, she said, “I’m projecting $3.7 million, but that’s subject to change.”

Ms. Hart explained the district has five different reserve funds, which can each only be used for a specified purpose such as employee benefits and accrued liabilities, tax certiorari claims, retirement system contributions, unemployment claims and capital building projects, the latter of which is an $880,000 account that can only be used with voter approval.

Board member J. Patrick Turbett, who chairs the board’s finance committee, said “in theory” the board could propose using a portion of that money to help decrease the tax levy, however, redesignating those monies would require voter approval.

“If we take that and use it the way we’ve been using it, I’ll say $1.6 million, that’s enough for two-and-a-half years. After that it’s gone,” Ms. Hart said. “We need to be careful with how we use it. When it’s gone, it’s gone.”

Ms. Hart then made the comparison of a homeowner without a savings account, “If you spent your entire savings account, you wouldn’t last very long as a homeowner,” she said.

Superintendent Patrick H. Brady said determining just how much of their reserves and fund balance to use next year will be a tough decision for the board to make as they look at weighing cuts, providing the district’s taxpayers with a responsible budget and providing the community’s children with the quality education they deserve and the community has come to expect from Potsdam Central.

He also pointed out that dipping into their reserves and fund balance isn’t something they’ve always had to do.

“Before the economic downturn in 2008, the district wasn’t using any money from reserves,” he said.

The district’s budget discussions will continue at 6 p.m. tonight when the board’s finance committee meets in the high school library.

“Bring your sleeping bags,” Mr. Turbett said, hinting that tonight’s meeting will not be a quick affair.

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