Fredonia lowers tax rate from initial budget proposal

OBSERVER Photos by Braden Carmen Fredonia Business Administrator John Forbes spoke to reductions to the proposed 2024-25 School Budget at a recent Board of Education meeting.

Fredonia’s latest school budget proposal lands a much softer blow than the initial projections did.

At the initial budget presentation to the Board of Education, the District proposed a tax levy of 4.68% for the 2024-25 School Budget. Since that time, however, the figure was reduced to 2.73%, a decrease of 0.52% from last year’s figure, and 1.95% lower than the initially proposed figure in the budget’s first draft. A year ago, the Fredonia Central School District approved a budget with a tax levy of 3.25%, a figure that far surpassed each of the previous nine years.

According to Business Administrator John Forbes, in recent weeks, the majority of reductions to the proposed budget came from materials and supplies, contractual expenses, transportation, and BOCES services.

The initial figure of 4.68% was well over the tax levy limit of 1.71%, which was the first time since the pre-limit stage in 2011-12 the District has exceeded the cap. Four times since 2011-12 the District has met the cap, with the remaining years falling below it, including last year despite the notable levy increase from 1% to 3.25%.

Last year’s sizable increase was the first of its kind in nearly a decade, as the District had four straight years at 1% or lower, including two years of a 0% increase.

Prior to last year, the District had not increased the tax levy by 2% or more since the 2013-14 school year. The proposed figure this year is still above that mark, but represents a slight decrease from the jump from a year ago and a noticeable decrease from what was initially projected.

The initial proposed 2024-25 School Budget was $36,977,474, which was $2,326,231 higher (6.7%) than last year’s budget. From 2022-23 to the new figure in 2024-25, the budget increased by more than $4.7 million in two years.

The newly reconfigured 2024-25 School Budget proposal is $36,648,250, which is an increase of $1,997,007 from the current year. The Budget currently sits $172,435 above the tax cap.

If the budget twice fails to pass a vote by District taxpayers, the District will still need to comply with the Administrative Cap, which cannot exceed the administrative percentage of the prior year’s budget or 11.55%. The District is currently $53,290 under the Administrative Cap with its latest proposal.

Among notable “big ticket” increases to the budget include an Occupational Education increase of $71,900 to account for three additional students; BOCES computer assisted instruction costs of $75,651 and BOCES computer services costs of $28,256. The most sizable increases, however, were a retirement system increase of $83,848; a health insurance increase of $185,379; and most of all, the busing increase of $380,305, with an additional $10,000 allocated to cover increased fuel costs.

The proposed budget will not be finalized until after several unknowns are cleared up. The District is still waiting for finalized equalization rates and assessments within the District, as well as clarity from BOCES on finalized costs, and final staffing items within the District.

The State Senate and Assembly also still have yet to finalize the State Aid figures the District will receive from the Governor’s budget, which was submitted in January. Several extensions have been granted in the preparation of State Aid figures, which leaves Fredonia and many other districts still waiting.

“We are still continuing to monitor, and hopefully, feel like we can get some clarity prior and leading up to our next meeting on April 23,” Superintendent Dr. Brad Zilliox said. “Trying to create a budget with somewhat of a moving target presents some challenges.”

The District anticipates its upcoming budget to be 48.8% State Aid, with 47.2% to come from the tax levy. The percentage of the budget coming from State Aid has increased in each of the four years preceding the upcoming year, including from 43.79% in 2022-23 to 46.7% in the current budget this year.

In 2024-25, salaries are anticipated to increase by $970,544 from the current year, accounting for more than $18.1 million – nearly half of the proposed $36.6 million budget. Benefits account for $7.3 million, while contractual expenses account for $4.3 million. Those three line items – salaries, benefits, and contractual expenses – increased by a combined amount of $1,725,858 of the total increased expenditures of $1,997,007.

Among the staffing cost increases are five retirements totaling $538,103; five staff replacements totaling $270,465; a staff retirement incentive of $53,079; and the inclusion of all positions currently funded by American Rescue Plan Act funding, which is set to expire this coming September. The cost to maintain those positions for next year is $487,735.

Zilliox noted the District is still discussing staffing needs within the District that would fall within the allotted slots already designated within the District Budget.

The 2024-25 School Budget also includes a $100,000 Capital Outlay Project. The District is still evaluating a much more substantial Capital Improvement Project in the coming years which will be included in a future year’s budget.

The Board will host a workshop on Tuesday to further discuss the School Budget before the Board takes action at its regular meeting April 23.


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