Port Jeff school unveils $43 million budget, stays within tax cap

Port Jeff school unveils $43 million budget, stays within tax cap

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School board president Kathleen Brennan. File photo

For the immediate future, the Port Jefferson school district is in a stable financial position as they plan for the 2017-18 school year, though a February petition filed by National Grid could impact the district’s outlook sooner rather than later.

The district’s assistant superintendent for business Sean Leister presented a second draft of the budget for next school year. Currently the plan includes a rollover of all curriculum in the current year’s budget, including some recommended enhancements, and also adds funding for four new staff members district-wide, two of whom will be full-time employees in the special education department. After accounting for contractual increases in staff member salaries and benefits, as well as several infrastructure-related capital improvement projects, the result is a $43,293,012 budget, which is about $1.9 million more than the 2016-17 version. The district will see savings due to a reduction in New York State pension system rates, which Leister’s presentation indicated as a contributing factor in maintaining academic programs despite a slight increase in expenses.

Leister summed up the district’s current financial situation during the presentation.

“We’ve reduced borrowing fees on our money through prudent cash management, we’ve entered into an energy performance contract to save money on lighting and heating efficiency, we continue to review the allocation of staffing, greater stability in administration has led to a reduction in mentoring costs and a high school electrical upgrade will give us different solutions enabling us to operate more efficiently,”
he said.

The budget includes a 2.35 percent tax levy increase, which after exemptions will allow the district to collect the maximum allowable revenue from property taxes while remaining below the state-mandated 2.0 percent cap.

About $35.6 million of the district’s revenue comes from taxpayers, though that number could be slashed drastically in the coming years, pending a lawsuit filed by the district in conjunction with other local municipalities to prevent LIPA proposals to reduce its tax burden. Almost half of the district’s property tax revenue comes from the Port Jefferson Power Center.

Recently National Grid, which provides energy to Long Island in partnership with LIPA, filed a petition with the New York State Public Service Commission in an effort to lift maximum restrictions on peaker units, which are additional power generators designed to be used during times of peak power consumption. Village residents said during a public hearing on the matter March 22 the petition is the first step in an impending fight over the repowering of the now-closed baseload plant, a solution the district and Port Jefferson Village have pushed as a compromise to LIPA’s proposals, though the power authority has deemed the plant “obsolete.”

At the March 21 board of education meeting, district superintendent Paul Casciano called the petition a “piece of the larger puzzle” in the dispute, which could significantly impact future revenue. Nothing imminent is expected relating to the district’s revenue from the plant.

Some of the infrastructure-related capital improvement projects include replacing the roof and electrical improvements at the high school, façade repairs and resurfacing of the high school track. Replacing the high school roof will require a second referendum to be voted on by the public because it would require the release of about $400,000 from the district’s capital reserves. Leister addressed the need for some of the various projects during
his presentation.

“We have some loose bricks that we need to tighten up for health and safety reasons,” Leister said of the façade repairs, which are slated for the high school and middle school. He also justified the need to replace the track. “The track has reached its useful life and if we don’t resurface it now for $360,000, we could be facing a million-dollar, full replacement.”

Leister added during the village board meeting the district has about $1.7 million in unused fund balance, which the district is allowed to keep as a “rainy day” fund as long as it is less than four percent of the total budget.

“You can see here we have a very healthy district and healthy reserves currently on our books,” he said.

The budget vote will take place May 16.