Tag Archive | "budgets"

Sag Harbor School District Proposes Technology, Transportation, Benefits Budget

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By Tessa Raebeck

A month before the entire 2015-16 budget is to be reviewed, Sag Harbor School District administrators presented technology, debt service, employee benefits and transportation components to the board of education on Monday.

With “no additional items that we haven’t had in previous budgets,” according to Technology Director Scott Fisher, the technology budget is proposed at slightly over $1 million, up by nearly 12 percent from the 2014-15 budget, which was just above $932,000.

“As you all know,” Mr. Fisher told the board, “the role of technology has expanded here exponentially in the past years…essentially everybody in the district is somehow impacted by the technology support.”

The technology department is looking to bring in additional support staff and to continue its upgrading, replenishment and purchasing of computer and wireless systems and supplies. Proposed increases of $18,650 at the Sag Harbor Elementary School and $15,200 at Pierson Middle/High School will account for the purchase of additional laptops and Chromebooks, low-cost computers that are popular in classrooms.

The transportation budget, computed by School Business Administrator Jennifer Buscemi and Head Bus Driver Maude Stephens, who was not at Monday’s meeting, would increase by just about $51,000, or 6.83 percent, to about $802,000, due in large part to a proposed bus purchase.

“Right now, all of our buses are being utilized and we don’t even have a spare bus,” said Ms. Buscemi, adding that the state Education Department recommends school districts have at least one spare.

Buying a new large bus would cost the district $102,000 up front. Another option, Ms. Buscemi said, would be to finance the bus over a 10-year period, a decision that would require the district to budget $13,000 a year for the next decade. School buses have an expected life of about 15 years, she added.

Chris Tice, vice president of the school board, said it would be practical to finance the bus purchase due to low interest rates and because “we have such a phenomenal bond rating,” as Moody’s Investors Service upgraded the district’s bond rating from A1 to Aa3 last May.

The employee benefits component of the budget, an area that usually shows large, unavoidable increases, is actually expected to decrease for the 2015-16 school year, due to a reduction in the percentage school districts must contribute to retirement costs.

The Teacher’s Retirement System (TRS) is recommending an employer contribution rate of about 13 percent for the 2015-16 school year, while that rate was much higher, at over 17 percent, for this school year, 2014-15. The employees are not receiving less in benefits, due to the change, rather, school districts are being required to contribute a smaller amount needed for the system to be able to pay out the required amount in benefits.

“That reduction of $518,000 is going to eat up a lot of the increases in the other areas,” Ms. Buscemi said, adding, “This is probably the first time in a long time that you’re going to see a decrease in that employee benefit and I’m hoping that that continues.”

The total projected employee benefits budget for next year is around $9.3 million, a decrease of $128,125, or 1.35 percent, from this year’s budget.

The debt services budget is also proposed to decrease, going down by about $29,000, or 2.48 percent, to a projected total of over $1.5 million. That projection is in part based on historically low interest rates.

With many of the rates needed to compute the budget not yet available, Ms. Buscemi had to estimate on some of the budget items, usually anticipating an increase of 3 percent.

“There are definitely areas here—that I’ve gone through in the past budget workshops and today—that we could cut if we had to,” Ms. Buscemi said, using the proposed school bus purchase as an example.

The preliminary numbers, Ms. Buscemi told the board, suggest the school district is in a very good position for the budget season and will “be able to maintain everything this year.”

The state aid numbers, which show New York’s school districts how much money they can expect from the state, have still not been released by Governor Andrew Cuomo and are expected to remain in political limbo for some time. The governor has said he will not release his education budget until the divided State Legislature approves all of his proposed educational reforms, many of which are controversial.

Sag Harbor’s John Jermain Memorial Library Presents 2015 Budget Draft

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John Jermain Memorial Library Director Catherine Creedon at the library during its renovation in October 2013. Photo by Michael Heller.

John Jermain Memorial Library Director Catherine Creedon at the library during its renovation in October 2013. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Tessa Raebeck

With the much-anticipated move back to its renovated and expanded home at 201 Main Street on the horizon, the board of Sag Harbor’s John Jermain Memorial Library (JJML) is presenting a budget draft that aims to cover the expenses of the building without exactly knowing what they will be.

“This budget was by far the most interesting budget for the board and I to put together in the years that I’ve worked at the library,” director Cathy Creedon said Monday, July 21, “because we’re almost back into the old, fresh, new building and we don’t have a real clear sense—because we’re not there yet—of what any of our operating expenses would be.”

The total of the 2015 draft budget, proposed at a library board meeting Wednesday, July 16, is $2,399,812. It includes operating expenses and debt service but is excluding capital expenses.

The budget represents an increase of $111,367 over the 2014 total budget, which was $2,288,445.

It would result in a 5.8-percent increase in the tax collected on the library’s behalf by the Sag Harbor School District, increasing that by $128,723 to $2,348,088. Those figures include funds for the library’s operating expenditures and the $905,000 in annual debt service approved at the time of the library’s 2009 renovation referendum.

Income designated for operating expenses (exclusive of funds raised through the capital campaign to improve the building) that the library generates itself through fundraisers, fines and other means is projected at $51,724 for 2015.

Ms. Creedon said the budget increase is due to moving into a bigger and better building, a move that has been stalled several times but should occur over the winter.

“At a minimum, we expect to see increases in electricity,” the director said. “We’ve been seeing our electric bills go up month after month even here in our temporary space, as we have people use our facility as a resource to support information searching of a digital nature. People are charging their laptops here or their iPad—they’re interfacing those devices with our collection to try to bring their research into the 21st century, which has been a great thing.”

Ms. Creedon said she has met with PSEG Island representatives to try to determine how much electricity the new building will need. In the proposed budget, electric expenses would increase by $8,439 for a total projected cost of $36,439.

The other major anticipated increase in expenses is due to staffing.

The building is four times larger than the library’s temporary space at 34 West Water Street, so custodial hours will need to be added.

The library moved into its temporary space around the same time as Governor Andrew Cuomo enacted the 2-percent tax cap on school districts. As a result of being in a smaller building and under a smaller budget, three employees left without being replaced. A desk clerk will not be replaced, but Ms. Creedon hopes to reinstate the adult programming coordinator and local history library positions.

“I really want to bring that building to light, be able to celebrate our local history holdings and the programming that we have,” Ms. Creedon said, adding that the number of people visiting the library for programs is increasing monthly.

“I think that kind of face-to-face instruction is something the community is really hungry for in terms of how they gather their information,” she added.

Ms. Creedon is hopeful the proposed budget for 2015 will enable the library to stay below the tax cap next year—and that JJML and the community will be enjoying the new library before the spring.

“I can see the staff, I can see the public computers, I can see the reading room full of people and it’s really wonderful,” the director said.

The terms of three current board members—Jackie Brody, Ann Lieber and Toby Spitz—will expire on December 31, 2014. They are all eligible for re-election.

A budget hearing and trustee forum will be held at 5:15 p.m. on Wednesday, September 17, preceding the regular monthly meeting. The library trustee election and budget vote is Monday, September 29, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.