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Potsdam’s budget gap now sits at roughly $1.2 million

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POTSDAM — Now that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s budget proposal has been released, the Potsdam Central School District’s finance committee has a little better idea of what’s in store for the 2013-14 budget-crafting season.

With an additional $270,000 in aid expected, Superintendent Patrick H. Brady said, the district’s budget gap, which originally was projected to be $1.5 million, is roughly $1.23 million.

Mr. Brady said the budget gap is based on preliminary estimates, which have the district facing a $1 million increase in benefit costs alone, although there is some potential for savings.

Mr. Brady said the governor’s budget included $203 million for pension and fiscal stabilization. That funding would allow districts to pay less for retirement benefits in anticipation of those costs being lower in the future.

“Our hope is, as we get more information, we may be able to take advantage of those monies,” Mr. Brady said.

However, board member Ann M. Carvill said she’s not so sure that’s a good idea.

“It’s an accounting gimmick,” she said. “How can you project 20 or 30 years out? I don’t like it.”

Committee Chairman J. Patrick Turbett agreed that projecting savings for that far down the road is difficult, but he wondered whether savings could be coming sooner, as the stock market continues to rebound and the funds no longer are having to make up for money that was lost when the economy tanked five years ago.

“If you were reasonably certain it was going to come back down, you might be willing to put a little more fund balance in,” Mr. Turbett said.

Business Manager Laura A. Hart said the health insurance increase could drop from the 9.5 percent the district projected to 8.5 percent. She said she would have more information on that following another meeting.

“I don’t think it will make a major, major difference,” she said, “but every little bit helps.”

Mr. Brady said the committee will begin discussing cuts when it meets again next month.

Two other areas for potential savings discussed at Tuesday’s meeting were special education and food services.

According to initial projections, special-education spending is expected to increase by $90,633.

“We feel this is an area we can reduce further as we continue through the budget process,” Mr. Brady said.

Another area of savings could come from switching to disposable plates and utensils.

David Graveline, food services manager, said the district spends approximately $32,000 on reusable plates and utensils with the cost of cleaning chemicals, paying dishwasher staff, buying replacement plates and utensils and other costs.

Eliminating all of that and purchasing disposable dishes and utensils would cost the district about $8,800, he said. With additional hours having to be assigned to cover other duties performed by dishwasher staff, those costs would rise to $10,000, still bringing the district savings of approximately $22,000 per year.

Mr. Brady said the district’s capital project calls for dishwashers to be replaced, something that it would not have to do should it switch to disposable plates and utensils.

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