Dunkirk school tax levy may increase about 1 percent

A total tax levy increase of $91,338, or .95 percent, will be seen in the Dunkirk City School District’s 2014-15 budget if taxpayers within the district collectively vote in favor of it on May 20.

The board of education unanimously approved the budget at its Thursday meeting, with expenditures totaling $41,177,757, an increase of $254,361 (.62 percent).

Business Administrator William Thiel explained the levy increase to $9,705,854 is solely meant to offset $73,000 in falling PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) revenues associated with NRG Energy Inc.

“Assuming the documents are all re-signed and re-upped for 10 more years, PILOT payments will creep up next year (2016) by .41 percent, and then it has 2 percent increases for the foreseeable future thereafter,” he said. “The total is $48 million for 10 years, so it’s reasonably important to us.”

While the levy may increase, Dunkirk taxpayers, according to Thiel, will be eligible for a New York state rebate, which was approved in the recently adopted state budget, as part of a property tax freeze initiative.

“Although our .95 percent levy increase would increase a $100,000-assessed home’s taxes by $16.51, that homeowner will receive a rebate check from the state of $25.36, because our increase is less than the minimum state rebate (of 1.46 percent),” he said. “I think we just bought a small pizza for everybody.”

Thiel explained many areas in the budget remained flat, including equipment, contractual, BOCES and supplies. An $883,068 decrease was seen in debt service due to the final payoff of a significant bond. There is a 1.12 percent ($212,412) increase in payroll expenses, which was offset by reducing full-time positions and trimming budget surplus accounts.

“The position reductions are not layoffs; they’re positions that federal grants also created at the same time and people just changing opportunities,” Thiel said.

Superintendent Gary Cerne supported Thiel’s remarks by adding “everyone will remain.”

“We are cutting some positions based on some retirements, so everyone will have a job next year, so we’re very thankful to be able to pull things together without anybody losing a job,” he said.

Thiel said employee benefits “continue their march upward” by 3.39 percent ($354,613). That increase is due to a skyrocketing Teachers Retirement System, workers’ compensation and healthcare costs.

“I’m thrilled we were able to get the expense side down when you think about the winter, the utility rates, TRS rates and ERS rates and contractual salary obligations,” Cerne said.

“For us to be able to get expenses down to .62 percent, budget to budget, that’s really good. Everybody understands we can’t raise taxes, and even though we’re going to have a slight nudge up in the levy, that will be offset by the tax freeze money people will get.”

Total state aid increased for Dunkirk by $635,095 (2.7 percent) in the state budget compared to the current year’s budget, while the state legislature increased aid to Dunkirk by $580,544 compared to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s initial proposal earlier this year.

That boost will put Dunkirk’s aid amount at $24,193,613.

“This is the first year our operating aid … will actually exceed the 2008-09 amount,” Thiel said. “We’ve been operating at a deficit from that plateau for a few years, and now we’re moving above that.”

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

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