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Potsdam’s budget gap now sits at roughly $1.2 million

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POTSDAM - Now that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s budget proposal has been released, the Potsdam Central School District’s finance committee has a little better idea of what’s in store for the 2013-2014 budget crafting season.

With an additional $270,000 in aid expected, Superintendent Patrick H. Brady said the district’s budget gap, which was originally projected to be $1.5 million, is now roughly $1.2 million.

“We started out looking at a $1.5 million gap,” Mr. Brady said. “The $270,000 will be a piece of that.”

Mr. Brady also noted that the budget gap, which now sits at $1.23 million is based on a budget with preliminary estimates without cuts being made yet to anything.

Those estimates have the district facing a $1 million increase in benefit costs alone, although there is some potential for savings.

He explained the governor’s budget included $203 million for pension stability. That funding would allow districts to pay less for retirement benefits in anticipation of those costs being lower in the future.

“Our hope is as we get more information we may be able to take advantage of those monies,” Mr. Brady said.

Ann M. Carvill though said she’s not so sure that’s a good idea.

“It’s an accounting gimmick,” she said. “How can you project 20 or 30 years out? I don’t like it.”

Committee Chairman J. Patrick Turbett agreed that projecting savings for that far down the road is difficult, but he wondered if savings could be coming sooner, as the stock market continues to rebound and the funds are no longer having to make up for money that was lost as a result of bad investments.

“If you were reasonably certain it was going to come back down, you might be willing to put a little more fund balance in,” he said.

Business Manager Laura Hart also said there could be potential for the projected health insurance increase to drop from the 9.5 percent the district projected to 8.5 percent. She said she’ll have an answer to that question following a meeting scheduled for today.

“I’ll know more about that tomorrow,” she said. “I don’t think it will make a major, major difference, but every little bit helps.”

Mr. Brady said the committee will begin discussing cuts when the committee meets again next month.

“At the next meeting we have we’ll start talking about how we’re going to face these challenges,” he said.

Mr. Turbett said before those discussions take place, he’ll be seeking input from fellow board of education members.

“I will be asking them to come up with some ideas in terms of priorities,” he said. “It’s awfully hard to do, but we have to have something to start with.”

Two areas for potential savings discussed at Tuesday’s meeting were special education and food services.

According to initial projects, special education spending is expected to increase $90,633.

“We feel this is an area we can reduce further as we continue through the budget process,” Mr. Brady said.

Another potential area of savings could come from switching to disposable plates and utensils.

Food Services Manager David Graveline said the district currently spends approximately $32,000 on reusable plates and utensils with the cost of cleaning chemicals, paying dishwashers, new plates and utensils, and the actual running of the machines coming into play.

Eliminating all of that and purchasing disposable ones would cost the district roughly $8,800, he said, but with additional hours having to be assigned to cover other duties performed by the dishwashers, he said those costs would rise to $10,000, still bringing the district savings of approximately $22,000 per year.

Mr. Brady noted the district’s capital project currently calls for dishwashers to be replaced, something that they would not need to do, should they switch to disposable plates and utensils.

Mr. Turbett said such a move could be risky, noting that it wouldn’t surprise him if one day legislation prohibiting the usage of disposable plates and utensils was passed.

That being said, Mr. Turbett said he was surprised at the cost savings.

“I would have never guessed,” he said.

Once he looked into it, Mr. Graveline said the savings did end up being more than he thought they would be.

“After I got it all together I was surprised,” he said.

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