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Vote Q&A

Included are responses to some commonly asked questions regarding the Phelps-Clifton Springs Central School District budget and ballot propositions (2024).

What are the highlights of the budget? 
The 2023-2024 school year was the first time since the creation of the Foundation Aid formula in 2007 that the Phelps-Clifton Springs Central School District received its full allocation of Foundation Aid. This amount along with a cost-of-living adjustment resulted in an increase of $4,158,730 in State Aid. For the 2024-2025 school year, the District is projected to see an increase of $1,185,130 in State Aid which is significantly less than the prior year. Fortunately, the District forecasted that once Federal stimulus funds expired, the State would start to tighten its budget due to declining revenue streams and planned for such a scenario. The 2024-2025 school budget of $46,142,958 is an overall increase of approximately 3.76% from the previous year and with Federal stimulus funds set to expire in September 2024, this budget maintains much of the staffing and programming that was added in recent years.

What expenditures are increasing the most? 
Nearly 40% of the budget represents salaries. Based on collective bargaining agreements, these salaries are increasing approximately 3.75% from last year. BOCES services for special education and occupational education programs have increased nearly 5% and health care in the Finger Lakes Area School Health Plan is expected to increase 9.5%. Despite these increases, the District has worked with building administrators and department directors to tighten the budget resulting in a budget-to-budget increase of $1,670,314 for the 2024-2025 school year. This increase is significantly less than the budget-to-budget increase for the 2023-2024 school year of $3,836,323.

How will the proposed budget affect property owners? 
The $46,142,958 budget proposal calls for a 2.43% (rounded to the nearest tenth of a percentage point throughout this issue) increase in the real property tax levy. Based on $100,000 assessed value and overall assessments and equalization rates from the 2023-2024 school year, residents can expect to see an average increase of $71.57 with no STAR exemption, $53.42 more if they qualify for the STAR exemption, or $22.48 more if they qualify for the enhanced STAR exemption. Keep in mind that the equalization rates and overall assessments across the seven municipalities have not yet been released for 2024.

How are reserve funds being used in the proposed budget?
The District plans to use $740,000 of its reserves to balance the budget. This amount represents a $90,425 annual increase from the 2023-2024 budget. The District will allocate $325,000 from the Employees Retirement System Reserve and $20,000 from the Teachers Retirement System Reserve to offset any contributions to the retirement systems. To offset certain contractual obligations for retirees in the coming school year, $95,000 will be allocated from the Employee Benefits Accrued Liability Reserve. The District will also allocate $300,000 from its Debt Service Fund to offset the local share of capital debt payments from previous capital projects. 

What kind of buses is the District looking to purchase and why is the District not investing in electric buses?
To ensure the safety of students and staff the District is working towards a five-year rotation of school buses as it phases out aging models. To continue this cycle, the District will spend up to $1,073,880 out of its Bus Purchase Reserve Fund to purchase six diesel buses and one utility vehicle. These buses are as follows: two 70-passenger, three 30-passenger, and one 30-passenger wheelchair-accessible. The state provides 90% aid reimbursement over five years for the purchase of buses resulting in a net cost to the District of $107,388. 

One of the key factors in the decision to purchase diesel over electric is that there are still many challenges with adopting electric buses namely: supply chain issues with electric buses and charging stations, demand on the power grid, new fire suppression systems, and increased costs of buses and insurance. 

Under New York State’s Zero-Emission School Bus Mandate, all school district purchases of new vehicles must be zero-emission as of July 1, 2027. If this mandate holds, then school districts will need a significant amount of money to purchase electric buses and upgrade the infrastructure of their respective transportation departments. Currently, the average cost of a 70-passenger diesel bus is about $170,000 whereas the electric version of the 70-passenger bus is closer to $400,000. This does not include the cost of the charger, which can cost as much as $50,000 depending on the power and speed of charging. 

Why create a Transportation Reserve Fund? 
The 2024 Transportation Reserve will have a 10-year lifespan with a maximum funding allocation of $5 million. This will allow the District to grow this reserve and have the flexibility to use the funds for purchasing diesel buses and possibly electric buses if mandated, along with the necessary infrastructure upgrades. γ

Why is funding for the libraries on the ballot?
The District holds the annual appropriations vote for the local libraries in conjunction with the District annual budget vote for efficiency purposes. The funding for the libraries has no impact on the school budget or taxes. Taxes related to the library funding are levied separately from District taxes. 

What happens if the budget isn’t approved? 
The District has two options if the budget is defeated. It can propose a new budget or the same budget for a re-vote in June. If that budget proposal is defeated, then the District would be required to adopt a contingency budget. Since the District is proposing a 2.43% levy increase there would be a change to the tax levy in a contingency budget, specifically a reduction of $375,878. Items such as non-essential equipment would be removed from the defeated budget along with public use of buildings.  

How is the tax levy limit for the District calculated? State law mandates that an eight-step formula be used to calculate the District’s tax levy limit. This calculation accounts for growth in the local tax base and the rate of inflation while providing the District with certain exemptions (capital expenditures, retirement contributions, court orders, and judgments). The District may also carry over the unused portion of the tax levy limit from previous years. However, it can be no greater than 1.5% of the prior year’s tax levy limit. The District has $237,837 in carryover from 2023- 2024. This coupled with a 1.26% tax base growth factor and a 2% levy growth factor results in a tax levy limit for the upcoming school year of $16,200,609 for a 4.73% annual increase. For 2024-2025, the District is proposing a school tax levy of $15,844,115 representing a 2.43% increase over the previous year.