School board members are focused on a 2015-16 budget totaling $94.16 million, which increases spending about 1.5 percent. The proposal does not tap any undesignated fund balance, while proposing an unusually low tax increase.
District administrators on Wednesday, April 15, presented the Bethlehem Central Board of Education with an updated budget proposal for next school year, which holds a property tax levy increase of 0.45 percent. The district’s tax cap was reduced through an infusion of state aid, which overall totals $25.55 million. The proposed budget is estimated to hold an $11 tax increase for a $250,000 home.
The estimated tax rate for Bethlehem homeowners is $20.81 per $1,000 of assessed value, which is an increase of 0.21 percent. The estimated New Scotland homeowner tax rate is essentially the same.
Superintendent of School Thomas Douglas said the district’s overall revenue outlook is “much more positive” than first envisioned. About $1.1 million withheld through the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA) was restored in next school year’s budget, with overall state aid increasing nearly 10 percent.
“That really went a long way to giving us a meaningful increase in our state aid, so we were able to go up by $2.2 million,” said district Chief Business and Financial Officer Judi Kehoe. “Because the state aid was higher that gave us the ability to lower the capital exemption number and that in turn translates to one of the lowest tax levy increases that we have seen in many, many years.”
If the district received all of the funding owed through the GEA, Douglas said the district would see another $2 million. “Could you just imagine what our budget picture would look like if it was fully restored?” asked Douglas.
The proposed property tax increase of 0.45 percent would be the second lowest ever presented to district residents, according to Douglas. The average property tax levy increase over the last decade is 4.58 percent, with the average over the last four years falling to 3.2 percent.
Some modifications to proposed additions include eliminating the purchase of transportation telemetry ($150,000), reducing of portion of its technology readiness funding ($120,000) and not funding a literacy coach ($71,000). Additional BOCES savings were also found totaling $34,000.
Douglas said with increased staffing across elementary schools proposed within in the budget, the addition of a literacy coach is not as vital. He said the district would review adding the position next year if it’s determined to be needed.
For the first time in several years, the district is not allocating any fund balance to help close a budget gap. “That’s probably about two years ahead of schedule for what we were planning on,” said Douglas.
The undesignated fund balance is projected to increase to $3.75 million at the end of June, which would be near the maximum amount allowed. Districts can have up to 4 percent of its overall budget in undesignated fund balance.
One of the propositions district voters will weigh on alongside the budget is the creation of a Capital Reserve account. The district could place any budgetary surpluses into this reserve, up to $10 million, which could only be used to fund capital projects.
Saving funds in the reserve account would allow the district to borrow less money for capital projects and reduce its debt burden. Taxes would not be raised to fill the account, according to district officials.
“It does not mean we would be initially funding it unless we had surpluses at the end of year,” said Douglas. “It would start off at $0 and we are not asking for any tax levy in this proposition to help fund it.”
Another proposition would allow the district to purchase eight large and two small busses for nearly $1.03 million. This would help the district stick to its bus replacement schedule.
School board members were scheduled to adopt the 2015-16 budget on Tuesday, April 21.
District residents will vote on the budget, propositions and school board candidates on Tuesday, May 19, from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., at Bethlehem Central High School.