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Massena Cental School officials lower tax levy increase in 2012-13 budget

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MASSENA - A routine audit by the New York State Comptroller’s Office of the Massena Central School District’s tax levy limit and employee benefit accrued liability reserve has changed the district’s tax levy limit, meaning district officials will be presenting voters with a lower than originally anticipated increase in their 2012-13 budget proposal.

Superintendent Roger B. Clough II said during Thursday night’s budget hearing that the audit found district officials had used an interim formula to calculate the district’s tax levy limit, resulting in a tax levy limit of 2.9 percent.

Using the correct formula, he said their tax levy limit has been lowered to 2.38 percent. That allows them to present voters with a proposed 2 percent tax levy increase rather than the originally anticipated 2.9 percent, while using the fund balance to offset the loss of property tax revenue.

“(The formula) was modified several times by the state,” Mr. Clough said.

Massena isn’t the only district affected by the change, he said.

“It’s happening all over the state,” he told the audience.

The district proposed $46 million budget increases spending by $1,548,549, or 3.5 percent over the $44.7 million plan in 2011-12.

Mr. Clough said after cutting 45 teachers, administrators and support staff over the past three years, “we were hoping this year things would turn around.”

Their proposed spending plan calls for four non-instructional positions to move to BOCES in 2012-13, which would make them eligible for state aid in 2013-14. The positions include business manager, a position currently held by Assistant Superintendent for Business Cynthia M. Yager, who will be retiring at the end of August; accounts payable clerk; food service director; and psychologist.

District officials have said those moves will mean a savings of $165,686 in 2013-14 when they receive 80 percent reimbursement from the state.

There are, however, no other position or program cuts in the proposed budget because of what Mr. Clough termed “proactive planning.”

“The good thing about this is we still have some of the best programs north of Syracuse,” he said, such as pre-kindergarten, junior kindergarten, alternative education, International Baccalaureate, Tech Prep, band, orchestra and chorus and an Educational Support Center.

With their budget proposal, Mr. Clough said they’ll actually be able to add positions, including a math teacher, two special education teachers, a speech teacher, a licensed practical nurse and a 0.5 dispatcher.

“Where other districts are laying off, we are actually going to be hiring,” he said.

If voters approve the budget on May 15, a resident whose home is assessed between $50,000 and $100,000 could anticipate a school tax increase ranging from $6 to $24 per year, school officials said.

If the budget is voted down, the same budget can be presented to voters again, or they can present a revised budget or go directly to a contingency budget. Voters turned down the district’s 2011-12 budget once before school board members opted to go directly to a contingency budget.

A contingency budget cannot carry a tax levy increase and must eliminate all non-contingent expenses such as certain student supplies, certain equipment purchases and community use of school facilities. The budget must also meet an administrative cap based on the previous year’s budget.

The vote will be held from 12 to 8 p.m. May 15 at the Massena Community Center.

Voters will also be asked to approve the purchase of four 66-passenger buses and one 26-passenger wheelchair accessible bus that would be paid for using reserves.

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