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Morris voices concern over Potsdam Central budget

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POTSDAM - While no members of the public spoke during a budget forum held prior to the Potsdam Central School District’s Board of Education meeting, one person, former board member Sandra D. Morris, expressed concerns over the district’s financial situation during the public comment portion of the regular board meeting.

Noting the district is facing a budget gap of roughly $1.3 million, Ms. Morris suggested budgeting closer to what the district is actually planning to spend.

“I ask you to consider if you need such a large cushion,” she said, adding that over the past several years the amount of money unexpended in the budget has ranged anywhere from $900,000 to $1.6 million.

She also said she understands the amount to be left over this year hasn’t yet been determined, but with over $2 million remaining in the district’s budget for this year, she said she’s expecting more than $1 million to be left once the fiscal year comes to a close.

Ms. Morris also said she was shocked to hear the district’s projected tax cap limit for the 2013-2014 budget was 4.78 percent.

“I hope you don’t think because you can pass on the increase, you should,” she said, adding in her opinion a tax levy increase of 4.78 percent would be too much.

That opinion, she said, was based on a revaluation of property taking place this year. While that may make the rate decrease, Ms. Morris noted with property values increasing taxes would likely still increase.

Ms. Morris’ comments came following a budget presentation where Superintendent Patrick H. Brady noted the district is still waiting for answers ion a couple of programs that may help their budget situation and shrink the district’s budget gap - the state’s $203 million in unallocated funds and the pension stabilization plan.

“These are areas that are still kind of unknown,” he said, explaining the pension stabilization plan would allow the district to cap its retirement contributions, which are now 20.9 percent of payroll for its Employee Retirement System members and 16.5 percent for its Teacher Retirement System members at 12 and 12.5 percent respectively for the next 25 years.

As for the $203 million, that money is expected to be distributed by the legislature at some point, but how much of that money Potsdam can expect to receive remains unknown.

“We are watching both very closely to see if either will impact us,” he said. “We hope those will be clarified within the next month, otherwise, we can’t consider them when putting together our budget.”

Mr. Brady also noted that the $1.3 million budget gap is being calculated assuming a 4 percent tax levy increase and using nearly $700,000 less in reserves than they did this year.

“We just don’t know at this point how much fund balance we can put in,” he said.

The superintendent also noted the district’s budget situation would be much different without state taking money from them through the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA). While roughly, $310,000 was restored to the district, Mr. Brady noted the state is still taking $1,954,539, a figure that is equal to more than $600,000 more than this year’s budget deficit.

“These are monies we would receive if the GEA wasn’t there,” he said.

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