Herricks budget eyes max tax increase

Lisa Rutkoske, the Herricks school district's assistant superintendent for business, speaks at the Feb. 16, 2017 school board meeting. (Photo by Samuel Glasser)

By Samuel Glasser

The Herricks school district would increase spending by less than 1 percent but increase tax revenue by 1.62 percent under a proposed budget administrators presented last Thursday.

The $111.2 million budget reflects an increase in spending of 0.82 percent, or about $905,000. It proposes a tax levy increase of is 1.62 percent, the maximum allowed this year under the state’s cap on property tax increases.

It is a “challenging budget since state aid is flat and costs are going up,” but it will “be developed with community input,” Fino Celano, the district superintendent, said at the Feb. 16 school board meeting.

The budget is divided into three main parts: school programs account for $85.4 million of the spending, or 77 percent; capital expenditures are $13.9 million in spending, about 12 percent; and administrative expenses account for $11.9 million, or 11 percent of the budget.

The assistant superintendent for business, Lisa Rutkoske, described the budget as “good news and bad news.”

The good news, she said, is that the district’s contribution to the New York State Teachers Retirement System, the statewide pension system for teachers, will decline to 9.8 percent of the total payroll, down from 11.7 percent currently.

This will lead to $765,000 in savings, while required contributions to the pensions for non-teaching employees will decline by $78,000, Rutkoske said. The pension contribution rate is set by the state.

Also, certain cost increases of $1 million incurred last year will not be repeated, Rutkoske said.

The district also anticipates a long-term decline in enrollment, Rutkoske said.

The coming year should see 75 to 80 fewer students. The 2016 high school graduating class had 353 students and no class in the elementary grades currently has more than 300 students.

The bad news, Rutkoske said, is a 12-percent increase in employee health insurance costs, partially offset by an increase in employee contributions toward health benefits.

Additionally, state aid will essentially be flat, increasing only 1.8 percent, officials said.

State aid makes up 10 percent of the district’s revenue, with property taxes being the major source of revenue, Celano said.

The aid distribution formula was created in 2007, allocating “foundation aid” on the basis of district size, wealth and needs.

It was suspended the following year because of the recession and has not been fully reinstated.

The amount of aid proposed by the state for next year is $5 million less than would have been provided under the original formula, district officials said. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed eliminating the foundation aid formula all together, Rutkoske said.

The Herricks school board on Thursday approved a resolution to offer a retirement incentive to eligible teachers and administrators.

Individuals would receive a payment equal to one-third of their unused sick days, Celano said.

This would have an overall positive impact on the budget equal to approximately $50,000 per individual, he said, since those who retire would be replaced by teachers at the lower end of the salary scale.

Further budget discussions will take place at school board meetings on March 9, March 23 and April 6. A public hearing on the budget will be held on May 4 and the public will vote on it May 16.

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