Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

March 14, 2013

More unknowns in budget

BY JOE OLENICK
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — School districts across New York are waiting for some information from Albany on a number of budget-related issues.

State lawmakers are trying to pass a 2014 budget by March 21, which would be helpful to school districts. The state budget would include funding totals for education, knowledge that would be useful as schools are putting together their budgets for the next school year as well. Those budgets are to be adopted by April, while the public votes on them on May 21.

But there are some related issues that need to be resolved in Albany. First, there are two bills in the state legislature dealing with education funding.

The state Senate has a bill before it that would add $415 million to state aid for schools, while the state Assembly has a bill that would add $334 million. Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed budget called for a 3 percent increase in school aid, to about $20.8 billion.

There is also a bill before the Assembly calling for reducing the Gap Elimination Adjustment by $299 million. That was former Gov. David Paterson’s reduction in school aid, used to cover a $10 billion state deficit. There is also talk at the state level of adjusting the building aid formula, which could lead to a loss in revenue.

Lockport City School District talking about the budget Wednesday, as well as current events in Albany.

Trustee Joseph O’Shaughnessy said it was difficult trying to put together a spending plan and keep the public informed, all while waiting for Albany to decide on those issues. Board members themselves don’t have all of the information, he said.

”We just don’t know,” O’Shaughnessy said.

As it stands, the Lockport City School budget for 2013-14 would be $83.5 million, a $3.6 million or 4.58 percent increase in spending. The budget would raise the tax levy by $1.5 million or 4.47 percent, still below the district’s legal tax cap of 5.04 percent. Taxes would account for about $36 million in revenue.

If the budget were to pass, while everything else related to tax rates remained the same, the effect would be an increase of about $1.11 per $1,000 of assessed land value.

Lockport is planning to use $2.6 million in reserves and $2.4 million from its appropriated fund balance.

But, any additional revenue could reduce reserve usage or ease the tax burden on taxpayers, said Superintendent Michelle T. Bradley. Or spending could be increased, too.

So, in order to not rush into a decision, board members decided Wednesday to move back the budget adoption date, if needed. Board members were scheduled to adopt a budget by their next meeting, March 27.

Next month, the Lockport Board of Education will meet April 10 and 17.

While budget adoption could be pushed back, two related dates are etched in stone. A public hearing on the budget will be held May 8 and residents will vote May 21.

The district is exploring a potential capital project that would address needs in some of the buildings. Most of those needs came up in a recent state-mandated building condition survey. It would also include kitchen upgrades in the elementary schools.

The project is currently tagged at $22.1 million, for which $20.4 million of which is state aidable. Lockport would receive 91.7 percent of that in state building aid reimbursement, while the rest would be covered by the district’s capital reserve fund.

If the project goes forward, residents would vote on it at the same time as the budget on May 21.

Contact reporter Joe Olenick at 439-9222, ext. 6241 or follow him on Twitter @joeolenick.