With the gap elimination adjustment hanging heavy over its budget, the Southwestern Central School District's tax levy now has the potential to increase 5.93 percent more than the 2012-13 tax levy.
On Tuesday, the Board of Education discussed the $1 million shortfall that the GEA has left the district, and the difficult decisions that will have to be made in order to soften the blow. According to Maureen Donahue, Southwestern superintendent, the budget deficit can be traced back to the freezing of the district's foundation aid in 2008.
"It is a huge issue," said Donahue. "It's a foundation aid issue, and it's a gap elimination amount that's been created over the last five years that we're up against. So we can either raise it with taxes, or cut it on the other end."
The newly calculated levy increase is .03 percent higher than the previous calculation of 5.9 percent. If the district does choose to up the tax levy to the maximum of 5.93 percent, the levy would produce an amount of $12,801,307.
The district is still waiting for its official budget numbers based on state aid, which are expected to be unveiled with the executive budget next week. However, according Louann Laurito-Bahgat, interim business administrator, there is no information to suggest that the tax levy would be impacted based on a change in state aid.
"I don't think we're going to see any revenue information that's going to be able to change the picture as far as the tax levy goes," she said. "Where we're going to have to change is in the appropriations part. Of course, it's our decision as to what we want to do with the tax levy. We have the ability to go up to 5.93 percent. Whether we do or not is going to function on what we decide on the appropriations."
Laurito-Bahgat said that the district's property tax report card is due on April 26, which means that the final tax levy numbers will be due before that date. A public budget presentation is scheduled for May 15.
Jim Butler, board president, said that the statewide property tax cap of 2 percent is misleading, and with the district's ability to increase its tax levy up to 5.93 percent, an explanation is necessary.
"It was almost a mistake (for the state) to advertise this tax cap at 2 percent," said Butler. "They should have just called it a 'tax cap.' The 2 percent is after you take off all of the exclusions. What you have left, then you can put the 2 percent on. And then, when you look at the entire budget, that 2 percent number is no longer 2 percent. So, it's only 2 percent of a portion of your budget."
He added: "We definitely need to explain that more every chance we get, especially this year, because everyone is expecting it to be less than 2 percent."
Donahue recommended that, for its next few meetings, the board convene an hour early to provide the public with budget presentations to allow for public question and answer sessions
"I do think there's a lot of things in the budget that people don't always understand, or they're new," she said. "And right now, it's kind of a moving target until we have all of the state numbers."