Draft budget won’t be presented until March
By Michael Turton
The numbers of the Haldane Central School District’s draft budget for 2013-14, presented when trustees met on Wednesday, Jan. 2, don’t really constitute a budget at all. “This is a spending plan, not a budget,” said Michael Junjulas, president of the Haldane Board of Education.
Final revenue figures required for a complete budget won’t be known for some time. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is expected to announce the state budget by mid January. That will provide details regarding state aid, although that is not expected to be good news. Trustees and administration are bracing themselves for what will almost certainly be an aid package that is over $500,000 below what has been the traditional funding level for many years. In addition, property assessment values for Philipstown won’t be known until August, as is always the case.
The district will use estimated figures and adjust the budget accordingly at that time. Because the district budgets conservatively, that final adjustment has often resulted in a slight reduction in the impact on taxes when the budget is finalized. Residents vote to approve or reject the proposed budget in May. At Wednesday’s meeting, Superintendent of Schools Mark Villanti said he expects to present a draft budget sometime in March.
Staying under tax cap
Business Manager Anne Dinio presented estimated figures for a draft spending plan that currently totals $18,093,957. That would result in a maximum allowable tax levy increase of 3.62 percent. The state imposes a tax cap of 2 percent statewide; however, the actual amount varies from district to district. A 3.62 percent increase would mean that for a home valued at $500,000, property taxes would increase by $244.
By way of comparison, last year’s tax levy increase of 2.44 percent would result in a tax increase of $145 for the same home. A tax levy increase at or below the maximum level allowed by the state must be approved by more than 50 percent of voters. The district can, in theory, propose a budget that exceeds the maximum allowable tax levy; however, it would require approval by 60 percent of voters in order to be adopted.
Trustee Evan Schwartz commented that a budget that exceeds the maximum allowable tax levy “would be a tough sell” on the heels of the $2 million capital project that was approved by voters late last fall. The project will make improvements to the main sports field, the auditorium and locker rooms.
Bargaining with cuts
Villanti said that as budget negotiations continue, he will not recommend an increase that exceeds the maximum allowable tax levy. With the district facing difficult budget cuts, Villanti said that some teachers have suggested using capital funds to reduce the impact of the reductions in state aid. Junjulas and Villanti both emphasized that capital funds cannot be used to offset operating costs.
The district is in discussions with both its unions regarding the budget. Both bargaining units have approved contracts. However, trustees have hinted at the need for concessions depending on the severity of cuts required. When he was elected as a trustee, Peter Henderson said that he would ask staff to accept a wage freeze if state aid continued to be reduced as it has in the past.
State legislator visit
New York State Assemblywoman Sandy Galef and newly elected State Sen. Terry Gipson will attend the Haldane School Board on Tuesday, Jan. 15, to discuss state aid to school districts. Villanti said that while he thinks state legislators understand the impact of reduced aid on a state level, “I don’t think they understand how it affects individual districts.” The meeting will be held in the Merrit building.
Fields project and athletics
Trustee Jon Champlin, who co-chairs the PLAY Haldane committee that is raising $100,000 for the fields project, reported that cash and pledges received now total $63,000. He said that outstanding grant applications could result in “significant dollars” being added to that total. He also said that a cash raffle is being planned along with the sale of engraved bricks or tiles to be placed in the area of the refurbished field. Champlin said that if all goes as planned, the field should be ready for use next September, although some improvements around the periphery may not be complete by then.
Trustees approved sports merger applications for 2013-14 with the Beacon School District for girls swimming and with Garrison Union Free School District for modified lacrosse and modified softball.
Trustees also discussed but took no action on the Landtek Group’s “Energy in the Bank” program, which calls for the possible installation of electricity-generating solar panels at the sports field and on school rooftops.