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Copenhagen school budget would hike levy by 2.9 percent

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COPENHAGEN — The Copenhagen Central School District’s tentative budget would increase the tax levy by 2.9 percent for the second straight year while dipping more heavily into district reserves.

“We’re using more fund balance than we want to, but we didn’t want to cut more,” Superintendent Scott N. Connell said.

The proposed budget would use $800,256 from the fund balance to keep taxes down, up $89,791 from the $710,465 used in the 2012-13 budget.

With the planned extra use, district officials are projecting that their unrestricted fund balance will drop from just over $1 million to about $750,000 within the next year.

However, given the cuts implemented in prior years, Mr. Connell said, it would have been difficult to make more without severely hampering educational opportunities for students.

“It’s the right thing to do for the kids,” he said.

The proposed budget also would use $112,250 from a tax certiorari reserve fund established because of a 2009 court challenge by Maple Ridge Wind Farm that has since been settled, Mr. Connell said. The plan is to spend down half that account in the upcoming school year and the other half in 2014-15.

Spending in the tentative budget is $10,233,606, up $67,045 from this year’s $10,166,561. That is a 0.66 percent increase.

The proposed levy, or amount to be raised by property taxes, is $1,574,371, up $44,370 from this year’s $1,530,001. Final tax rates won’t be available until town tax rolls are completed in August.

The 2.9 percent levy hike is well below the district’s 5.9 percent maximum allowable increase under state tax cap legislation, officials said.

State aid is projected to drop by $154,866, from $7,601,195 this year to $7,446,329 in 2013-14, although much of that is attributable to a reduction in building aid — and interest payments — for past capital projects.

Salaries are to increase by $64,970 to $3.74 million, while employee benefits are to rise by $235,603 to $2.37 million.

Payments from the Maple Ridge Wind Farm are expected to remain at $206,000.

Mr. Connell said he hopes that the Copenhagen Wind Farm project will come to fruition within the next couple of years, providing additional income to the district.

District enrollment is projected to drop from 466 to 433 over the next year.

However, with an average of 34 students per grade level, the drop means smaller class sizes with little ability to compensate by eliminating teachers, Mr. Connell said.

The district will hold its annual budget hearing at 6:30 p.m. May 7 in the school cafeteria, while the budget vote will be from noon to 8 p.m. May 21 in the gymnasium lobby.

District residents also will be asked to support the continued busing of children to Lowville Head Start on existing routes and the purchase of one 44-seat bus for up to $135,000.

Troy W. Buckley is running unopposed for a five-year term on the Board of Education.

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