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Budget hearing draws few audience members, no questions

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BRASHER FALLS - St. Lawrence Central School Superintendent Stephen M. Putman didn’t have to field any questions this week following his presentation on the district’s 2012-13 budget proposal.

Fewer than 10 people were present for the budget hearing, and many of those were teachers and administrators.

Approximately 40 community members had attended last year’s budget hearing to discuss an $18.9 million spending plan that called for a 16.12 percent tax levy increase. That budget was ultimately defeated by voters, as was a second budget that reduced the tax levy increase to 11.9 percent.

This time around, district officials are proposing an $18.8 million spending plan that calls for a 3.28 percent tax levy increase. The district’s maximum allowable tax levy increase under the property tax cap is 4.33 percent.

It also call for cuts of four positions - three teachers and one teaching assistant. One of the teachers involved in the cuts will be on active military duty for the next year, and district officials will not be replacing that person, according to Mr. Putman. School officials have also announced plans to restore the high school principal. Christopher Rose has served as middle and high school principal this school year.

“It’s $140,000 less than last year, which is certainly difficult to do,” he said.

The main reason they were able to lower their budget was because a 1998 capital project has now been paid off, Mr. Putman said. But at the same time, they are receiving a reduction in aid for the now-completed project.

Mr. Putman said their budget proposal calls for revenue of $3,085,990 in local taxes, compared to $3,000,968 in 2011-12. It also calls for $12,764,367 in state aid, a reduction from$12,106,432 in 2011-12 because of the loss of aid from their debt payment.

They plan to use $402,134 from their employee retirement reserve and $850,000 from the appropriated fund balance to help balance the budget. They used $348,500 of employee retirement reserve and $850,000 of their fund balance in 2011-12.

Mr. Putman said those two areas gave him cause for concern. If they kept using their fund balance at the current rate, he said, they would only be able to sustain the district for three more years.

Altogether, the budget is broken down into 67.84 percent in state and federal aid, 16.41 percent in local taxes, 7.26 percent in STAR taxes and 7.78 percent in reserves and fund balance.

Although the tax levy is 3.28 percent, Mr. Putman said the number is typically lower when property tax rates are approved in August. He said the property tax rate was $21.66 per $1,000 in 2011-12, and he estimates it will be between $22 and $22.20 per $1,000 in 2012-13.

“We never know what the tax rate is going to be until August,” he said.

If it falls in that range, he said the impact on a $100,000 home would be an increase of $32 per year for those with a STAR exemption, $18 per year with an Enhanced STAR exemption and $55 for those with no STAR tax exemption.

Residents with the Senior STAR tax exemption would not see a tax increase if their home was assessed below $62,000, according to the superintendent.

The staff reductions won’t have a large effect on class sizes, Mr. Putman said. Two of the cuts are at the elementary level, but smaller classes coming into the district means they’ll be able to have class sizes of 19 to 22 kindergarten students, 20 to 21 first grade students, 21 to 22 second grade students, 20 to 21 third grade students, 22 to 23 fourth grade students, 20 to 21 fifth grade students and 23 to 24 sixth grade students.

“We’ve been allowed to do that without making huge class sizes because two smaller classes are coming into the district. It allows us to make those cuts without having extremely large class sizes,” Mr. Putman said.

In addition to asking voters to approve their spending plan on May 15, he said they’re also asking for permission to purchase four buses.

“We’ve been on a rotation of buying about three buses every year,” he said.

However, voters turned down their request to purchases buses last year, and now they have six buses with 100,000 miles. They will have nine buses with more than 100,000 miles by June, and Mr. Putman said the Department of Transportation has already indicated two buses will not pass inspection this summer.

“We want to purchase four and trade five in. The state pays 90 percent of the cost and interest for the purchase of buses,” he said.

Purchasing new buses would save on parts, Mr. Putman said, noting their parts budget is currently 27 percent over last year.

“I think it would be prudent to approve the purchase of buses,” he said.

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