Dunkirk official updates budget, assures no tax cap override

It appears a tax cap override is not necessary for the Dunkirk City School District’s 2014-2015 budget.

Business Administrator William Thiel informed the board of education Thursday that any tax levy increase will be under the amount allotted by New York state, which for the district is 1.46 percent before exemptions and 4.44 percent, or $426,966, after exemptions.

Exemptions include changes in payment in lieu of taxes agreements, capital expenses, pension obligations and any carry-forward of the unused cap from the prior year.

“Our basic goal is to try to neutralize expenditure increases where we can,” Thiel said. “We’re still working through issues and numbers can still change, but we haven’t had any real surprises yet.”

Superintendent Gary Cerne echoed Thiel’s comments and assured residents any tax increase will be “minimal.”

“The numbers are slowly getting into place, but the hard part now is looking at personnel costs, and that will naturally affect benefits, so next month will be the tough month, and then we’ll be pretty close to ratifying it,” he said.

Thiel went over an updated budget draft and said that while contractual costs may increase by $70,000, that amount should be offset by decreases in supply and technology costs. Small cuts in BOCES services will offset a $47,000 BOCES capital cost.

“The Employee Retirement System number now is going to decline by 2 percent, while the Teacher Retirement System number continues to increase,” Thiel said. “The final rate they decided on was 17.53 percent, so that’s a big chunk of change.”

Unemployment should decrease by $70,000 and medical costs may go up by 3.5 percent. Workers’ compensation should increase by a substantial 25 percent.

“We’ve had some bad situations regarding workers’ comp in the past few years,” Thiel said.

He also addressed the NRG Energy PILOT agreement.

“We have a projected agreement of $3.989 million; that’s the full amount of the current PILOT,” he said. “It’s still got the governmental process to go through. We’d love to have budget certainty, but the negotiations, once done between NRG, National Grid and the state, will finally result in us coming to the table and hammering out the PILOT, and we’re operating with the understanding that agreement will be the same as it is in the original contract.”

Thiel added if anything goes wrong with that, Dunkirk has enough reserve money to cushion short-term operations impacts.

Regarding state aid, while Dunkirk may see a slight uptick of $401,000 in the gap elimination adjustment, total aid (including building aid) might net a decrease of $371,000.

“We’ve lost a little over $5.8 million since 2010-2011 from the gap elimination adjustment,” Thiel added. “Kind of runs in the face of all the investment in education talk you hear across the state.”

The next board meeting is March 13 at 6:30 p.m.

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