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Proposed Canton school budget calls for 2.56 percent tax hike

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CANTON - Property owners in the Canton Central School District will see a projected 2.56 percent increase in the tax levy under a proposed 2014-15 school budget that preserves jobs and avoids program cuts.

The $26,522,577 spending plan is expected to be adopted by the school board Thursday evening in the high school library. The session starts at 6:45 p.m. with an executive session followed by a public session that’s expected to start at 7 p.m.

A budget hearing is scheduled for May 8. Voters go to the polls May 20 to approve or reject the budget and fill three open school board seats.

Including debt service payments, the proposed $26.5 million budget increases spending by 9.1 percent, which is $2.2 million more than this year’s $24.3 million budget. Next year’s proposed tax levy would generate an estimated $8,648,428, which is a $216,038 hike over the current budget.

Spending increases include a 7.2 percent hike in employee benefits from $8.3 to $8.9 million. The cost of general education and special education, which includes salaries, will increase an estimated 4.2 percent, going from $9.4 million to $9.9 million.

The cost of debt service and interfund transfers are projected to increase by 71 percent, from this year’s $1.6 million to $2.7 million.

The 2.56 percent proposed increase in the tax levy, or the amount to be raised in taxes, is the maximum the district is allowed under the state-imposed tax cap limit. A larger tax increase would require 60 percent approval from voters compared to the 50 percent threshold for staying within the tax cap limit.

School Superintendent William A. Gregory recommends the district help close a projected $2,085,307 budget gap by using the district’s entire unreserved fund balance, $782,108, plus debt reserves totalling $390,040. Those measures would reduce the estimated budget gap to $697,121.

“As a final measure, we can consider using any end-of-year unspent funds from the current school year’s budget,” Mr. Gregory said in a budget summary report.

Besides the unreserved fund balance, the district expects to end this year’s budget with $775,000 in unspent funds by limiting expenses to “mission essential” items for the remaining 2.5 months of the school year, the superintendent said.

Allocating the bulk of that for next year’s budget - $697,121 - would leave just $77,879 for next year’s fund balance, which Mr. Gregory described as minimal.

“This translates to a minimum level of fund balance to deal with emergencies and be available for use next year,” he said.

The adopted state budget increases the district’s aid by 4.14 percent, not including building aid. The district expects to receive $13.7 million in state aid next year, a $544,581 jump from this year’s $13.1 million.

Mr. Gregory said the district’s“unattractive alternative” to balancing the budget could involve cutting a wide range of non-mandated classes and programs including athletics and extracurricular, pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, art, music, elementary guidance position, non-mandated information and technology sciences, French or Spanish, non-mandated family consumer science, agriculture programs, reducing transportation and the school pool.

“We don’t want to go there. Unfortunately, we may find ourselves facing a similar, or even worse dilemma next year if our fiscal outlook does not change and change dramatically,” Mr. Gregory wrote in his budget report.

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