I heard the Norwich School Board passed a budget for 2013-2014. It calls for a 2.5% tax levy increase of $257,975.
Looking at the budget presentation the budget expenditures are increasing by $898,236 over last year.
Looking at the revenues Norwich state aid is increasing by 3.15%. We are going to receive $1,036,307. That leaves us with a surplus of $138,071.
It is not like Norwich is hurting for funds. They have a surplus account of $5,900,000. The local tax levy totals $10,576,982. A reasonable portion of fund balance should be used as a financial cushion in the event of unforeseen financial circumstances. The surplus is over 50% of the tax levy. What is wrong with this picture?
Looking at the District’s presentation it appears the Board has adopted a budget with estimates that will continue to generate surpluses. Budgeting practices in Norwich School District have allowed officials to amass a significant surplus.
I remember when the economy went into the tank. The school district presented an analysis that we were going to just get by because of our surplus funds. In fact we beat the odds and increased our surplus. At the same time we continued to give raises and maintain benefits for all the staff. We‘ve maintained a diverse and varied program for our students. We have even provided new programing for students offering them college level courses that include actual college credit.
The staff and administrators have really done a great job all the way around except for the taxpayer.
To quote State Comptroller DiNapoli; “In today’s economic climate, with resources scarce and property taxes a major concern, it’s more important than ever to have realistic budgets. This begins with developing budget estimates based on the most accurate and up-to-date financial information possible.”
How about doing something for the people paying the bills?
The district has $1,600,000 in the capital reserve fund. The district has been putting away between $100,000 and $200,000 a year. They could skip a year or two. Then we would not have to have a tax levy increase.
Looking at their ten year averages we could use funds from the surplus account and not have a tax levy increase for the next 5 or 6 years. The Board should develop a plan to reduce the unexpended surplus fund balance in the general fund in a manner that benefits taxpayers. This may include paying for new buses, capping off the capital reserve fund, reducing the 2013-2014 budget to an actual zero increase in local tax levy and reducing future property taxes.
To quote State Comptroller DiNapoli;
They should be reviewing all reserves annually and determine if the amounts reserved are necessary, reasonable, and in compliance with statutory requirements;
Develop a multiyear financial plan and update the current capital plan; and
Adopt policies and procedures to govern budgeting practices that include determining a reasonable level of unexpended surplus funds to be maintained and addressing the accumulation of and use of moneys in reserve funds.
I never thought I would vote No on a school budget but never say never.
Robert I. Patterson Taxpayer Town of Plymouth Norwich, NY 13815 April 17, 2013
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