Local reaction mostly positive to budget address

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s new state budget proposal prompted mostly positive reactions from local government and school officials Tuesday.

Cuomo’s $135 billion executive budget proposal for 2013-14, for the fiscal year beginning April 1, includes adjustments to spending in areas such as education, economic development and mandate relief.

State Sen. Hugh T. Farley, R-Niskayuna, said he was mostly pleased with the $899 million proposed in education aid, but he said some of the schools in his district, including Edinburg and Lake Pleasant, would face significant aid cuts.

“It’s a mixed situation, but by and large, it looks like something we can work with,” Farley said.

Farley said he was especially excited about the workers’ compensation changes that Cuomo says will save employers, local governments and school districts $900 million. He said this proposal will be especially helpful for small businesses.

“Small businesses are where the jobs are,” Farley said. “I think New York is on the right track, with no new taxes and being more business friendly … By and large, it looks like a budget we can work with and live with.”

Assemblyman Marc Butler, R-Newport, also said he was pleased with Cuomo’s proposal and its focus on creating jobs and growing the economy.

“At first glance, I can appreciate that Gov. Cuomo’s 2013-14 Executive Budget proposal closes the $1.3 billion deficit without raising taxes on hard-working New Yorkers,” Butler said in a written statement. “We’re at a critical point where every dollar spent in our state must go toward creating jobs and lowering the tax burden on families and job creators. This is especially important and relevant in the Mohawk Valley and the North Country, which have been hit hardest by this unstable economy and New York’s job-killing policies.

Johnstown Mayor Sarah Slingerland, a Republican, said she is pleased with the budget’s focus on aid for schools.

“I do appreciate the fact that it’s a very balanced budget,” said Slingerland, a retired teacher. “Being a former educator, I’m glad to see there was financial focus on education, whether it be K-12 or advanced education.”

She said the most helpful thing would be for the budget to be passed on time so local school officials can know what state aid to expect.

Slingerland said she isn’t sure how the budget is going to affect Johnstown, but she is intrigued by the education and tourism efforts Cuomo highlighted. The proposal would not increase state aid for municipalities outside New York City.

Statewide, Cuomo’s proposal would increase school aid by 4.4 percent, closing the overall aid deficit created in this year’s budget, and it includes funding for schools that start longer school days.

Gloversville Enlarged School District Superintendent Michael Vanyo said his district would receive a $787,583 increase in operation aid – 2.09 percent more than this year. He was referring to figures that include building aid. Without building aid, the district would receive a 1.47 percent aid increase under the governor’s plan.

“This year, they’re doing a one-time thing with Gap restoration, and that will really help our district out,” he said, referring to the Gap Elimination Adjustment in state aid to districts.

The newly merged Oppenheim-Ephratah-St. Johnsville Central School District’s state funding for 2013-14 is not clear yet. In the governor’s projections, Oppenheim-Ephratah alone is set to receive a 1.28 percent increase, not including building aid, but Superintendent Dan Russom is expecting more aid for the now-consolidated district.

According to the districts’ July 2011 merger study, the merged district is eligible for almost $1.47 million in incentive operating aid and $42,000 in incentive building aid.

“One of the things we’re trying to clarify, because we’re merged, is we’re going to get the reorganizational aid,” Russom said. “We’re expecting to get some further information from the governor’s office as we move forward.”

The largest proportional increase in proposed aid among local districts is $686,231 – a 7.12 percent increase, not including building aid – earmarked for the Fort Plain Central School District.

Superintendent Douglas Burton said aid increases of 8 percent in past years have helped, but the cuts during Gov. David Paterson’s term set the district back, and the district is still recovering.

He said the district’s size makes it harder to obtain some of the $50 million available in grants.

“Unfortunately, when there are competitive grants, we’re so small it’s difficult for a district our size to have the manpower to write applications for grants and make sweeping changes because we’ve been forced to reduce staff so much to maintain programs,” Burton said.

Most local districts are projected to receive increases in aid, but some local districts are budgeted to receive aid decreases. These include Mayfield, Wells and Wheelerville.

Mayfield’s aid, not including building aid, would drop by 0.15 percent.

Mayfield Superintendent Paul Williamsen said the governor’s proposal would restore about $132,000 to the district in the Gap Elimination Adjustment.

“We kind of forecasted this situation,” he said.

Rick Timbs, executive director of the Statewide School Finance Consortium in East Syracuse, praised the governor for “trying to distribute money to high-need districts” for the second year in a row. But Timbs said he is concerned the funding might not “be enough in time” to save financially beleaguered school districts.

He said districts will have suffered $8.6 billion in aid cuts over four years, including a $1.8 billion reduction for 2013-14.

“Districts have drained their fund balances and cut programs and staff just to survive,” he said. “More will have to be done for these districts to remain solvent.”

News editor Eric Retzlaff contributed to this report.