The Red Hook School District Board of Education has voted to maintain its current programming in the upcoming year’s budget, but Superintendent Paul Finch was reserved about future financial prospects.
The district’s tax levy increase will be 3.42 percent if the budget is approved by voters on May 21. In total, the increase in expenditures is 2.54 percent, or $1,201,047, about $169,000 below the maximum allowable state tax cap. According to Finch, this is one of the lowest increases in Dutchess County. The full budget is $48.4 million.
The increase will translate to approximately $100 a year on the school property tax bill for those with property assessed at $200,000.
At the beginning of the budget process, the board was facing a $1.6 million structural deficit in crafting its expenditures for the next year, Finch said in a presentation before the board voted on the proposal at its April 24 board meeting.
“Tax caps and state mandates don’t play well together,” Finch said. “You’re always going to have this structural deficit unless a couple of things happen; state aid closes the gap completely… or you get some mandate relief.”
The gap was closed in part by a $515,000 boost in state aid, along with a restructuring of employees, as one retiree will not be replaced.
In order to close a remaining $450,000 deficit, the district was forced to pull large amounts of cash from its reserves.
“I want to be upfront with the board… we are weakening our fiscal position doing this,” Finch said. “That’s a decision that we’re making in order to provide the same opportunities for our students this next year that they had this year.”
Business Administrator Bruce Martin, in an explanation of “what moves the budget,” noted that employee salaries and benefits account for approximately 75 percent of the district’s expenditures.
If the proposed budget fails to garner a majority of votes, the board will have the opportunity to make adjustments. If it fails again, a contingency budget will be adopted.
The district will also be asking for voter approval of a $7.5 million capital project, which Finch said would be largely devoted to infrastructure. Included in that would be a new boiler for Mill Road Elementary School to replace one that was put in when the building was constructed in the 1960s. Also included would be WiFi access across the district, as well as enhanced security cameras and door locks in school buildings.
Finch said the capital project will be no impact on the budget this year, and debt service payments would begin next year. However, he says the impact on the tax levy “will be minimal” because a former project’s debt service is expiring the same year.
There will also be a proposition on the ballot to approve $280,000 for the purchase of two 66-passenger buses and one wheelchair-accessible bus as part of the regular replacement process for older vehicles.
Two long-time Red Hook Board of Education members are also on the ballot for re-election; both are running unopposed. This will be the sixth three-year term for Johanna Moore and the fifth term for Kelly Mosher, who is also the board’s president. There are five members on the board.
Voting on May 21 will be held at the Mill Road School 3-5 gymnasium from noon to 9pm.