Albion school budget again won’t increase taxes

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 6 April 2022 at 4:27 pm

District proposes capital reserve to transfer $13 million from overfunded post-employment benefit reserve

ALBION – The Board of Education approved a $38,298,690 budget on Monday evening that will go before voters on May 17.

The budget keeps the tax levy at $8,449,039. This is the 14th time in the past 16 years that taxes have either stayed the same or decreased.

The district was faulted in an audit last month from the state comptroller’s office for building a surplus of funds in excess of the statutory limit by $17.3 million.

The audit said Albion on a regular basis would overestimate appropriations, resulting in the district levying more real property taxes than needed and the accumulation of a sizable surplus fund balance.

The district has a multi-year plan to reduce the surplus. Those funds protect the district from any future swings in state aid, which accounts for about 75 percent of the district budget.

Board of Education member Margy Brown said she is proud of the district’s financial position and hopes the district can continue to hold taxes largely in check for another decade or more.

Brown, a member of the district’s finance committee, said Albion has taken an “extreme conservative” approach in guarding the district finances from spikes in taxes.

Kathy Harling, the board president, in a response to the comptroller’s office, said the district’s leadership has had a collective goal over the years “to minimize the impact of inconsistency of funding levels from the State Education Department while trying to maintain an effective instructional program insulated form swings in state aid revenues.”

The audit offers a chance “for continuous improvement” and Albion will be looking to implement some of the recommendations from the comptroller’s officer.

One suggestion is moving most of the funds in a post-employment benefit reserve to a capital reserve fund.

The May 17 vote includes a proposition to establish a Capital Improvements Reserve Fund for acquisition, construction, reconstruction, expansion, renovation, alteration and improvements of buildings, facilities, sites and real property in the district, or the district’s share of any projects undertaken by the Orleans-Niagara BOCES. The district wishes to set the amount at $15 million.

Albion is proposing to transfer $13,831,050 coming from the District’s Retirement Contribution Reserve Fund. That is the amount the state comptroller’s office said the account is overfunded.

“This is essentially a savings account which will be used to pay for necessary repairs of our buildings in the future,” Harling wrote in a budget message on the district website. “We are extremely proud of our school facilities and grateful for the investment our community has made in them.”

Even with the transfer, the Employee Retirement System would remain fully funded at $1,730,335, the district said.

That $13.8 million plus another $7,195,000 in a capital reserve fund would cover most, perhaps all, of the construction costs for $26.69 million capital project approved by district voters on Dec. 14. The project that includes work at all three schools, as well as the bus garage, and new synthetic playing surfaces for football, soccer and softball.

Albion could pay for the project without taking out a bond. That would save in financing costs and interest. The state would still pay Albion back over 15 years the state share, plus interest.

“We will save the taxpayers a ton of money by not paying interest over 15 years,” said Rick Recckio, the district’s business administrator.

To transfer the $13.8 million, the district needs to create the new capital reserve fund. It will be set at a maximum of $15 million.

The $38.3 million overall school budget maintains all current programs and also adds summer programs and after-school opportunities to help students make up for lost classroom time during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Maintenance/custodial expenses also were increased from $1,506,661 to $1,863,092. Major maintenance items included in the 2022-23 plan are painting, carpet replacement, energy efficiency, health and safety updates, blacktop striping and stair tread replacement.

The vote on May 17 will be from noon to 8 p.m. in elementary school conference room A.

Propositions to be voted on include:

  • Proposition 1 – School budget at $38,298,690
  • Proposition 2 – Bus purchase at $550,000
  • Proposition 3 – Hoag Library at $648,964
  • Proposition 4 – Establishment and proposed initial funding and utilization of a capital improvements reserve fund

Two board seats also will be up for election. They are currently filled by Kathy Harling and Wayne Wadhams. Both positions are five-year terms.