The Oceanside School District announced its plan to increase its tax levy — the amount of its budget paid for with property taxes — by 2.15 percent from last year, or $2.5 million, at the Board of Education’s March 22 meeting.
The board approved the proposed budget, which will be voted on by the public on May 16. Overall, the $150 million 2017-18 plan is about $3 million higher than last year. Roughly $120 million of it would be paid for through property taxes, according to Assistant Superintendent of Business Chris Van Cott.
Though New York State’s tax cap legislation limits the increase of funds collected for the district through property taxes to 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower, the 2.15 percent increase is allowable, as certain costs — including roughly $740,000 increase in debt servicing expenses for the district’s bonds — do not count towards the cap.
The main drivers of the tax levy increase are debt-servicing payments going toward a $30 million bond approved in 2014 and real estate growth factors, Van Cott said.
The district also plans to purchase five new student transportation vehicles, as well as put money aside for a drama practice and performance space at Oceanside High School. Allocations for engineering programs in the elementary schools and a new business education instructor for the OHS’s newly implemented virtual enterprise program are also included.
“This board is dedicated to keeping programs,” Board Trustee Mike D’Ambrosio said at the meeting. “As a matter of fact, we’ve added programs. … I think what’s most important. We’re taking care of our kids in our district the best we possibly can. Sometimes there’s a price we have to pay for that.”
The expense increases were partially offset by a switch from oil to natural gas heating, renegotiated copy machine leases and more efficient library staffing. The district is also routing additional information technology services and software subscriptions through the Board of Cooperative Educational Services, as part of a strategy to increase BOCES’s state aid, according to Van Cott.
During the latest budget overview, a resident raised concerns over the district’s designation as being “susceptible to fiscal stress” — as deemed by a January report by the state comptroller’s office — and what the district is doing through budgeting to lose that designation.
Van Cott admitted that due to the comptroller’s assessment — the result of depleted cash reserves following Hurricane Sandy — the district’s bond credit rating was downgraded by Moody’s Investors Service, a bond credit rating company, which at one point resulted in the district having to pay an extra $75,000 toward a 12-year bond.
“We do have a plan to replenish those reserves," he said. As part of that plan, Van Cott is projecting state aid funds conservatively, at roughly $22 million, so that any leftover cash could be put towards them.
Van Cott said an additional $2 million would need to be placed in reserves before the susceptibility rating could be removed. School officials estimated that it would take two years for that to happen.
There will be a budget hearing in the School No. 6 auditorium on May 3, where residents will have an additional opportunity to voice their concerns about the budget before the vote on May 16.