Tax cap met in proposed Fredonia budget plan

Taxpayers in the Fredonia Central School District will see a total tax levy increase of $131,804 (.87 percent) to an estimated $15,210,823 total levy if they collectively vote in favor of the proposed 2014-15 budget on May 20.

Business Administrator John Forbes presented the fifth and final draft of the budget during Tuesday’s board of education meeting, which was unanimously approved by the board afterward. Forbes announced the almost $30 million budget would comply with the final state-mandated tax cap calculation for Fredonia, which also happens to be .87 percent, meaning a 60 percent supermajority vote from the community will not be required.

“I’d like to thank the state legislature and the governor for providing us with additional state aid and an on-time budget,” Forbes said before the presentation, adding a boost of around $400,000 in state aid, including an extra $50,000 from state Sen. Cathy Young’s efforts, helped save further staff and program cuts at Fredonia. “It may seem like we cut a lot of money in a short amount of time, which is true, but the administration has been discussing various scenarios for months now and has had a plan in place on what to do depending on what the final state number turned out to be.”

Forbes explained the proposed budget, which stands at $29,651,244, manages to maintain “most programs, all extra-curricular activities and athletics, and has been done with no staff cuts other than retirements.” Instead of cutting staff and programs, expenditure line items were reduced a bit tighter than normal, he said.

“That’s somewhat of a gamble, and we hope our gamble is correct,” Forbes concluded, stressing problems seen the past few months will continue to be seen in next year’s budget process.

Superintendent Paul DiFonzo added Fredonia can no longer afford a business as usual approach to its budget.

“We can’t continue to wait (every year) for the state to see how much aid they’ll give us to wonder and know if we can continue to have the academic programming we need for students,” he said. “We’re going to continue, as a district, to try to be creative and work with other districts to ask our state government to help make changes that will make sharing services a bit easier so students in the region will receive the programming they deserve.”

Barring changes to equalization rates and assessed values, the proposed tax rate increases include 99 cents per thousand dollars of assessed value in Pomfret, 36 cents in Arkwright, 37 cents in Portland, 29 cents in Sheridan and 27 cents in Dunkirk.

The biggest hit in the budget continues to be salaries and benefits, which are up $1,122,416, or 5.93 percent, to a total of $20,051,306; all other areas in the budget are down from the current year.

“Paul and John, I appreciate your efforts as administrators to put forth a budget where we didn’t have any cuts (to staff),” Fredonia Teachers Association President Roger Pacos said during the public portion of the meeting. “We really appreciate your efforts in keeping everything intact.”

Expenditure decreases realized between the fourth and fifth budget drafts include: $58,177 in equipment reductions (including a $20,000 piano); $53,320 in BOCES services; $44,200 in instructional salaries (which is not replacing a teacher and a teacher aide who are retiring); $138,312 in contractual expenses (including utilities); and $71,589 in health insurance premiums.

The next regular board meeting is May 13 at 6:30 p.m. in the high school library, which is also when the annual budget hearing will be held.

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