Tough choices ahead in Fredonia budget process

The 2014-2015 budget for the Fredonia Central School District is slowly starting to piece together.

Business Administrator John Forbes presented the budget’s first draft during a recent board of education meeting and concluded the district has some tough choices ahead to keep costs down. The first draft, as of Feb. 11, stands at $30,553,225, an increase of 6.26 percent.

“In this draft, our maximum adjusted tax levy is $15,199,564, or a .8 percent increase,” Forbes said. “That means if you take the current budget draft proposal’s tax levy of $16,515,649, that’s a difference of $1.3 million. That needs to come out, either through additional revenue, through additional applied fund balance, or budget reductions in order to meet the tax levy cap and not require a supermajority vote of over 60 percent to pass the budget.”

That $1.3 million is, in part, attributable to a $1.3 million shortfall in state operating aid as a result of the continuation of the Gap Elimination Adjustment. Fredonia faces the largest state aid shortfall out of any district in Chautauqua County, according to numbers in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed state budget. Superintendent Paul DiFonzo said the state’s reasoning is that the district does not have the amount of poverty other districts do.

The district’s state-mandated tax cap covers a $120,545 increase, which Forbes pointed out is significantly below projected expenditure increases. He advised the board to be cautious if it implements a tax cap override.

“That would be a very fine line to walk,” he said. “We’d have to see where we’re at in terms of total percent, what that would mean in terms of total tax increase, because we can’t ask the voters to support too large a number and expect that it’ll pass.”

He explained total salaries and benefits are projected to go up $1,389,000, a 7.34 percent increase.

Teachers’ Retirement System expenditures are estimated to increase by $500,000. The total cost for the district would thus be $1,827,944, which translates to a nearly 40 percent increase from the current school year.

“TRS has been a huge impact to school districts since 2009-2010,” Forbes said. “Since then, our cost for that has gone up over $1 million. That’s not anything a district can control; the rates are put in place by the pension board of the state.”

He added that number has increased significantly ever since the state removed the need for any employee in the system to contribute 3 percent of their pay if they had more than 10 years of service. Stock market declines have also played a part.

Total contractual expenses stand to go up by $442,529, a 7.6 percent increase over the current year.

A second budget draft will be presented to the board in the near future.

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