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Lowville school keeps levy stable for 8th straight year

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LOWVILLE — The winds of change won’t be blowing for Lowville Academy and Central School District taxpayers, as the proposed budget maintains a stable tax levy for the eighth straight year.

“As a school, we’ve been very fortunate,” said first-year Superintendent Cheryl R. Steckly, noting the benefit of roughly $3.5 million in annual Maple Ridge Wind Farm revenues.

Spending in the proposed 2013-14 budget would increase by $500,000, from $25,823,456 to $26,323,456; that is a 1.94 percent increase.

The tax levy, or amount to be raised by property taxes, is to remain at $3,851,071. Tax rates won’t be determined until final town tax rolls are completed in August, but district officials are projecting a drop in the full-value tax rate from $7.91 to $7.73 per $1,000 of assessed value.

The proposed spending plan would use $1.5 million — up from $1.35 million this year — from the district’s fund balance to keep taxes down.

Overall state aid is to increase from $17.07 million to $17.43 million, despite a drop in building aid because of the retirement of some past capital project debt.

The primary cost increase would be in state retirement benefits, with that category projected to jump by $454,351 to $1.94 million.

“That’s mandated,” Mrs. Steckly said. “We have no control over that cost increase.”

The cost of health insurance also is expected to increase by $74,534 to $2.8 million, while salaries are projected to rise by $239,435 to $11 million.

Offsetting those increases are a projected drop in debt service of $217,105 to $4.42 million and an anticipated decrease in energy expenses of $43,450 to $720,150.

“We made reductions in places that don’t change anything in the program,” Mrs. Steckly said.

The new superintendent commended her predecessor, Kenneth J. McAuliffe, as well as Board of Education members and district staff with strong long-term planning. Despite the influx of wind farm money, district officials are trying to remain conservative in spending, given that those revenues could be lower once the 15-year PILOT agreement expires seven years from now, she said.

The district also continues to seek state legislation that would allow it to set money aside in a tax stabilization reserve fund, providing a cushion if the wind farm ever shuts down or reduces its payments significantly, Mrs. Steckly said.

A public hearing on the proposed budget will be held at 7 p.m. today in the elementary school’s cafeteria. The annual budget vote and Board of Education election will take place from noon to 8 p.m. May 21 in the school auditorium.

District voters also will be asked to approve the purchase of three buses for up to $375,000, authorize transportation of students to Lowville Head Start on regularly scheduled bus routes and increase funding for the William H. Bush Memorial Library in Martinsburg from $10,000 to $20,000.

Board of Education members Patrick Anderson, Arlene Hall and Paul Kelly are all running unopposed for new three-year terms.

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