Eldred taxpayers asked to pay more, lose credit

ELDRED, NY — The 2019-2020 budget, which includes a $516,237 or 4.95% increase in taxes, was formally presented by district treasurer Caleb Russell at the Eldred school board meeting on February 14. The magnitude of the increase had been spoken of at prior meetings and in district publications, but the presentation gave the audience a glimpse at the overall picture.

Spending is projected to increase $425,620 or 2.52%. The disparity between the tax increase and spending increase is primarily because the district has not transferred funds from reserve accounts. In the prior year’s budget, $100,000 from such accounts was projected to be transferred into operations—in effect, taking from one pocket to put into another. This amount will instead be made up by the taxpayers. Drains on revenue result from anticipated decreases in state and other aid and the fact that no funds will come from equipment sales, as occurred from the sale of the bus fleet. These decreases are offset by increases in interest income due to more efficient cash management and the expectation of a monetary contribution from Millennium Pipeline Company LLC. The contribution was secured by board member Scott Hallock.

In addition to contractual increases, the additional funds raised by increased taxes would be used to hire two armed school resource officers, a Kindergarten teacher, a special education teacher, an elementary guidance counselor and a data protection expert. The two latter positions are mandated by the Department of Education, though the state does not provide additional funds to cover the costs.

The effect of the proposed tax increase on residents will be mitigated to some degree by the inclusion of the Millennium compressor station in the tax base. The amount at which the pipeline will be assessed should be known in March, and will serve to increase the base over which the tax will be spread.

Because the budget is based on “busting” the state-mandated tax cap, the budget is dependent on a 60% approval from voters.

If the budget is approved, residents will forfeit the property tax relief credit, the amount of which is income-dependent. Most households in the district fall within the $75,000-$150,000 income bracket and, in addition to paying increased taxes, would lose the credit ranging from $246 to $335. The property tax relief credit is only available when the district adheres to the tax cap.

Also announced was a concession by the Eldred Faculty Association whereby the members will contribute an additional 1.5% and 1% to their healthcare costs over the next two years above the percentages contracted for, bringing their total annual contribution to 10%. Healthcare premiums are currently about $13,000 for single coverage and $28,000 for family coverage. Thus, depending on their coverage, employees will contribute somewhere around $195 or $420 more in the next school year. Teacher salaries and benefits average $70,000 a year according to district publications. In acknowledging this agreement, superintendent John Morgano said that the district appreciated the association’s support and cooperation.

During the meeting, board president Carol Bliefernich, whose term expires in June, announced that it was with regret but also with satisfaction that she would not seek re-election to the board. Bliefernich has served two five-year terms, including the most recent two years as president. During her tenure, the district has experienced significant financial and personnel upheaval.

During the period for public comment, the audience was admonished that the time was for asking questions but not to engage in discussion. Bliefernich commented that personnel were always available, but after three instances of reaching out for clarification the following day, a questioner received no response from the district. And during a contentious exchange, one dissenting but respectful commenter was told to “save it for Facebook.”

 

 

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