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SRCS board eyes fund balance to stay under tax cap

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FORT COVINGTON - Property owners in the Salmon River School District can expect to see a 2 percent increase in the district’s tax levy in 2014-15, according to a preliminary report on next year’s budget.

The jump will only raise $39,018 more from taxpayers, but along with a projected $310,973 increase in state aid the extra revenue should cover the rising costs of health insurance and the retirement benefits for school employees.

It won’t, however, cover the rising costs of BOCES services, utilities and fringe benefits, or $310,958 more in instructional spending SRCS projected for next year.

Instead the district’s fund balance will take a hit of $188,000, and spending on supplies and materials for the school will see a $35,149 decrease. The district will also benefit fro, paying $53,899 less in debt services in the next fiscal year.

Retirement rates for employees and teachers have actually started to level off this year; which would be good news for the school budget if rising rates hadn’t forced the district to adopt to tax cap exemptions in previous years.

The school cannot produce a levy of more than $2,008,229 or a 2.94 percent increase from this year; with the 2 percent increase it will collect $1,989,899 from residents for 2014-15, still $18,330 under the cap.

Superintendent Jane Collins said Salmon River must rely heavily on state aid to balance costs because the amount the district gathers from district residents comes nowhere near what is needed to run the school. This is due to the low income and property wealth within the district.

A recent report indicated the median household income in the Salmon River school distirct was $39,978, ranking it at 417 among the 455 school district’s in Upstate New York.

While almost $2 million in property tax revenue may seem like a lot, it doesn’t do much to bite into the $29.7 million Salmon River expects to spend next year.

Salmon River has sought many efficiencies for the past five years following a decrease in state aid caused by the 2008 recession. In the 2009-10 school year, legislation known as the Deficit Reduction Assessment renamed the Gap Elimination Adjustment in 2010-11 also began to cut into the school’s state aid package.

The GEA fills the state’s deficit at the expense of school districts, according to the New York State School Boards Association. It takes money originally allocated for high-need school districts and funnels it into other state costs.

Since the GEA came into effect, SRCS has lost about $5.4 million in previously received state aid, according to Ms.Collins and the budget report. Roughly 40 positions at the school have been cut over four years to offset the loss.

In a letter to key politicians across the state sent in February, SRCS school board members stressed their commitment to seeing the GEA eliminated and the school’s full aid restored. The funds would go far in helping the school expand and move forward, as opposed to the struggle to hold current standards, board members said. The elimination of the GEA would mean the elimination of many of SRCS’s fiscal problems.

In the interest of district residents, the school board has also opted not to exempt area veterans from school taxes.

School officials suggested the tax exemption would just move the burden of those costs onto other members of the community. Collins said even board member Matthew Mainville, who is a veteran, spoke out against the unfairness of the exemption.

Had the motion passed, the school would have lost approximately $1.8 million in their tax base, equal to $21,000 in revenue for next year.

The school is still waiting on final aid figures to finalize their budget. Residents can expect to see a full report, including projected tax rates, in mid- to late April.

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