Things looking up in Dunkirk school budget

Things are looking up in the Dunkirk City School District’s $41.18 million 2014-2015 budget proposal, according to some officials.

Business Administrator William Thiel updated the board of education Thursday on the budget’s expenses, including a “fairly large” decrease of $549,096 in personnel.

“About $215,000 of that is us trimming portions of the existing budget (for unused summer school, professional development and overtime accounts),” he said. “The remainder is us either not filling positions that are coming up for eligibility to be filled or moving people around positions, so it’s more of a position reduction and not a person reduction. The good-news side, assuming retirements come in as we expect, it doesn’t look like people will be impacted; they will change jobs, but they will not be out of a job.”

The benefit line was also adjusted, decreasing by $200,000.

“Reduced payroll dollars means reduced benefits paid out,” Thiel said. “We’re designating ($785,330 in) reserves to be used on that employee benefits line though (since the Teacher Retirement System rate is increasing by 17.53 percent).”

As a result of decreases, the overall budget increase was slashed from the original 2.45 percent ($1 million) to .62 percent ($254,000). For the tax levy, that translates to a proposed increase of $91,338, or .95 percent, which is below Dunkirk’s state-mandated tax cap of 4.45 percent.

“When Mr. Thiel gave his first budget presentation in December, we had an off-the-chart budget increase, but we’ve whittled it down,” Superintendent Gary Cerne said. “We’ve really examined every expense line we have and found ways to take away a little bit here and a little bit there …”

Cerne attributed the low budget increase to the expected retirements.

“We had the same big gap as other area districts, but we’ve been fortunate enough that we anticipate some retirements and we were able to fill it that way,” he said. “That’s a low number (.62 percent) when you think how utility rates are off the charts, as well as health insurance, TRS and so many other things.”

Thiel pointed out a new development in the budget’s revenue side, which has yet to be solidified since a state budget must still be passed.

“The Assembly just announced they have a proposal to increase over the governor’s proposal by about $375 million,” he said. “The question is, how will that be allocated? If it’s allocated through the gap elimination adjustment, we’ll see none, but if it’s allocated through the foundation aid formula, we’ll see $300,000.”

While the NRG payment in lieu of taxes agreement still has yet to carve itself in stone, Thiel predicted the district will receive the full amount it currently gets, about $4 million.

“The current state of the negotiation is it’s in public comment with the state Public Service Commission,” he said. “After public comment comes final documentation and our PILOT negotiations, which are just a reset of the former PILOT.”

Cerne said the public comment portion ends April 5.

“Hopefully shortly thereafter, we should get some solid numbers,” he said.

A public hearing on the proposed budget is May 8 at 7 p.m. in the large group instruction room of the administrative building.

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