FORT COVINGTON –– Taxes in the Salmon River Central School District would continue to decrease under a 2020-21 budget approved by the Board of Education on Monday.

The $34 million spending plan –– which calls for the same amount of spending as in the current year –– includes a tax levy of just under $2 million, a decrease of roughly 4.5%, Business Executive Natascha Jock told the school board. That decrease would translate to a drop in the tax rate to $9.74 per $1,000 of assessed property value, Jock said.

The district’s tax rate has generally declined steadily since the 2004-05 school year –– except for a blip in the 2008-09 school year, when a housing market crash triggered a worldwide recession, according to a chart included in the district’s online budget presentation.

The tax rate dip comes despite a loss of roughly $583,000 in state foundation aid –– money the district can use essentially as it sees fit –– as well as some unknown but anticipated revenue losses, Jock said. The original district budget proposal had projected a $100,000 increase in foundation aid, based on Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s executive state budget unveiled in January.

The foundation aid cut is largely offset by money the district received from the federal government through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, Jock noted. However, Cuomo has warned school districts and municipalities that deeper cuts in state aid are expected to be coming as the state struggles to deal with a multibillion budget deficit, and Jock warned that additional federal assistance is unlikely to make up for the state cuts.

District Superintendent Stanley Harper noted that Cuomo had said he planned to announce the first series of cuts on May 15, but the governor has not yet announced their extent. Cuomo has said the cuts could amount to 20% of state aid, an amount Jock said would be “devastating to our district.”

“An additional cut like that would have a dramatic effect on Salmon River because we are so heavily state aided,” Harper said.

In addition to the expected increase in financial aid, the original budget plan –– put together before COVID-19 pandemic devastated the state’s economy –– had called for an increase in total spending of about $400,000, or 1.4%. That plan called for the addition of several positions, including two mental health counselor positions and a speech language pathologist, and a modified sports program –– plans that have been scrapped to help hold the line on spending, Harper said.

The budget approved Monday also eliminated several positions, including vacant elementary teacher, behavioral specialist and a custodian posts, as well as the school resource officer in the elementary school. Harper said cutting the latter position should not affect school safety as the district has taken numerous other measures in that area, including the installation of cameras, locking vestibule doors and other upgrades to the school building to increase security.

The district is also dropping the drivers’ education program offered through BOCES, he noted.

“We’re trying to preserve as many (full-time equivalent) employees as possible, trying to preserve all of our programs for our kids,” Harper said.

The budget calls for the district to use about $465,000 from its fund balance to balance the budget and stay under the cap, and Jock told the Board of Education she was reluctant to dip further into that fund, as the money may be needed in future budgets as the economic fallout from the pandemic drags on.

Jock said she foresees a five- to eight-year period of revenue shortfalls, particularly from state aid. If the district draws heavily on its fund balance now, “We won’t have the money down the road to cover them.”

The total fund balance currently sits at about $14 million, according to a chart Jock used in her budget presentation. That total is projected to drop to about $7 million by the 2024-25 fiscal year, as the district is forced to drawn down its balance.

A virtual public hearing on the budget plan is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday. Voters get their final say on the proposal on June 9 in a vote that will be held entirely by absentee ballots, which must be received by the district by 5 p.m. on that date.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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