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Massena Central looks at $5.4 million shortfall in 2013-14 budget

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MASSENA - A projected $5.4 million shortfall in their 2013-14 spending plan is staring Massena Central School District officials in the face as their Finance Committee continues to meet and discuss next year’s budget.

Finance Committee Chairman Michael J. LeBire told board members Thursday night that they had met again prior to the regular school board session. Included in the talks were building administrators and a couple of union representatives.

Mr. LeBire had told board members in October that they would reach out to those groups, as well as the community, as they continue to explore their options to reduce the projected deficit in the 2013-14 spending plan.

“We had ideas for cuts and increased revenue. They were very generic conversations tonight,” Mr. LeBire said Thursday.

He said they are currently projecting a $5.4 million shortfall in next year’s budget.

“We’re hoping to potentially cut the deficit in half,” Mr. LeBire said. “We’re gathering information from all the stakeholder groups.”

He said they had also discussed refunding on bonds, a resolution that board members approved Thursday night.

Refunding bonds are new bonds issued to redeem - or retire - previously issued bonds, on their maturity or by a call. Refunding bonds may be sold for cash or exchanged for the older bonds.

In Massena Central’s case, Business Manager Nicholas Brouillette said that, by taking that action on a 2003 bond, they could save $382,000.

All cost-saving measures will be examined as district officials to continue to craft their 2013-14 budget, Mr. LeBire had said in October. He had told board members that if state aid remained at a projected 2 percent annual increase and if the district maintained its current programs, local property taxes would need to increase 101 percent over the next five years to bridge the budget gaps.

The only way to get around that, he had said, was to cut academic and extracurricular programs or seek a super majority to approve a tax increase above the district’s tax levy limit - neither option being acceptable, according to the Finance Committee chairman.

Mr. LeBire said that their October projections showed, if current levels were maintained, the district’s reserve fund would run out before the 2015-16 school year and taxes could rise dramatically for district residents.

If district officials kept everything “static,” they would use $5.4 million of their reserve funds in 2013-14 with 2 percent tax increase and $5.6 million in 2014-15 with a 12 percent tax increase. That would exhaust the reserve fund, requiring a 48 percent tax increase in 2015-16.

That would be followed by 9 percent tax increases in 2016-17 and 2017-18.

Mr. LeBire had emphasized in October that their figures were just a planning document.

“No one is saying the sky is falling, but we do see tough times ahead,” he said. “This conversation tonight forces us to look into the future and start charting a course that best protects our students, our employees and our community.”

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