F-F could stay under cap with 8.8% tax-levy increase

FONDA – Fonda-Fultonville Central School District officials say the tax levy could increase more than 8 percent under the 2013-14 budget and still stay within the state-imposed tax cap.

The state tax-cap formula says the district could raise its tax levy to $10.2 million, an increase of $830,000 or 8.83 percent, according to District Treasurer Carey Shultz.

“If we put it at 8.84 percent, we would be over,” Shultz said after Monday’s school board meeting.

If the district were to propose a budget exceeding the tax cap, it would need the approval of at least 60 percent of district voters rather than a simple majority.

Few hard numbers were presented at Monday’s meeting. Shultz said the district still is waiting on several key pieces of information, such as certain expenses and state-aid figures.

Interim Superintendent Ray Colucciello said he expects to meet with union representatives Wednesday to discuss matters regarding the budget and whether the district might need to make faculty and staff cuts.

Colucciello said it’s not clear if raising the tax levy even by 8.8 percent would avoid staff cuts.

Shultz said additional factors could affect the budget and are still being reviewed, including whether the district should change its health insurance system from self-insured to premium-based and how many teachers decide to retire this year.

Colucciello said district officials hope the state Legislature will increase state education aid beyond what Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed in his executive budget.

Shultz said the school board will need to approve its budget proposal by its April meeting so the spending plan could go to a public vote in May.

“In the past, we kind of cut and slashed early – kind of jumped the gun a little bit, I think,” Shultz said. “We really have to sit down and really look through the data and see the impact before we make hasty decisions.”

Since 2010, state aid to the district has been reduced by almost $6 million. Meanwhile, costs for pensions and health insurance benefits have increased more than $2 million.

“Having those kind of funds ripped out of the budget makes it impossible to stabilize it,” Shultz said earlier this month, noting the district’s staff has been reduced by 25 percent over the last five years.

This budget process follows on the heels of the district’s midyear budget cuts, in which $440,000 was slashed from the 2012-13 budget. The district cut the positions of a school psychologist and a business teacher, refinanced the district’s long-term debt, closed the pool, eliminated a late bus run, and removed special-education transfers and alternative education slots.