ST. REGIS FALLS –– The St. Regis Falls Central School District’s proposed $9.65 million budget for the coming school year breezed through a lightly attended public hearing held via video conference Tuesday night.
Only two district residents signed into the budget presentation, and neither had any questions about the 2020-21 plan that raises spending by about $678,000, or 7.55%. The increase in spending will increase the tax levy by about $81,000 or 2.87% - the maximum increase allowed under the state-imposed property tax cap –– to about $2.9 million, district Business Manager Susan Perkins said during her presentation of the budget.
That increase represents an average tax hike of about 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, from a current figure of $17.62 per $1,000 to about $18.12 per $1,000, she said, although the actual effect will differ among the five towns –– Dickinson, Hopkinton, Lawrence, Santa Clara and Waverly –– that are all or partly contained in the school district.
The budget was “crafted to be flexible” in light of the fiscal uncertainties facing the district, Superintendent Tim Seymour said. New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has said he will review the amount of aid the state is providing to school districts and local government at four points during the year, with the possibility that reductions will be made as the state grapples with a budget deficit projected to be as much as $61 billion over the next four years.
The first of those “measurement periods” ended April 30 and the state has so far not announced any cuts in aid, Seymour said. But Perkins noted that Cuomo has talked of cuts of up to 20%, which would translate to a reduction in SRF’s aid of as much as $250,000.
To prepare for those possible cuts, the Board of Education last week voted to shift an additional $100,000 from the district’s unreserved fund balance into the budget. The money, which will be allocated to support instruction and to pay for additional training in online instruction for teachers, can be returned to the fund balance if it isn’t needed to fill in gaps created by state aid cuts, board Vice President Thomas O’Bryan said at that meeting.
The allocation of the fund balance monies will leave the district with a balance of roughly $806,000, or 8.5% of its total budget in the coming year. State law sets the maximum amount of fund balance a school district should carry at 4% of its total budget, and the state Comptroller’s Office has in the past criticized the district for having balances that approached 20%, but district officials say they want to keep the total under 10% of the budget –– a figure they say is more realistic given the small overall size of the budget relative to other districts.
The budget plan had already called for using $100,000 from that balance to pay the district’s final share of the $18.9 million BOCES capital improvement project and an additional $383,000 to help hold the line on property taxes.
District voters will have the final say on the budget plan in the annual budget vote. This year’s vote will be held via paper ballot, rather than in-person voting, because of the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak. Eligible district voters will receive their ballots in the mail and must return them to the district offices no later than 5 p.m. June 6, said board President Lyndon Farmer. Ballots received after that deadline will not be counted –– even if they are postmarked before then.