Public absent at budget hearing

JOHNSTOWN – The Greater Johnstown School Board conducted a public meeting Tuesday night for the district’s proposed $33.4 million 2016-17 budget, but no member of the public showed up.

Johnstown Superintendent Robert DeLilli gave his presentation in the Johnstown High School lecture hall, his only audience was several school board members, a few administrators and one member of the media.

School Board member Ron Beck said the low attendance for the budget public hearing was unfortunately typical of many districts this year, including schools that are proposing to break the state mandated tax cap.

DeLilli said Johnstown’s 2016-17 budget increases the district’s total property tax levy by 1.62 percent, $127,425, which is within the New York state-mandated property tax cap. The tax levy increase brings the school district’s tax levy to about $8.02 million. Year-over-year spending is also up slightly for the district, 0.18 percent, $59,454.

Tax rates will not be available until the summer when the New York state Office of Real Property releases the new property tax equalization rates for the five different municipalities that are included within the school district.

DeLilli said part of the reason Johnstown has been able to stay under the tax cap is because, unlike some of the other districts in Fulton County, Johnstown recently increased its debt load with a $39 million capital project approved by voters in December. He said the district still has debt associated with the Jansen Avenue School, now home to P-Tech. Under the rules of the state tax cap, money spent on debt service is exempt from consideration of the tax cap.

“The board committed in March to not going over the cap. This is the first year that we have two school districts in [the Hamilton Fulton Montgomery BOCES] that are seeking to go over the cap. Looking into the crystal ball, I think that’s going to increase in future years if the state doesn’t change its formula,” DeLilli said. “The way our numbers shook out we still have enough debt that it is taken into consideration.”

Johnstown is also using $3.4 million of its $6.5 million fund balance, its reserve of unspent tax revenues, to balance the 2016-17 budget.

One of the key cost increases for the district includes a $674,000 increase in the cost of employee salaries and benefits, bringing the total cost of those expenses to $8.8 million.

Bus proposition

Voters in the Greater Johnstown School District are also being asked to use about $467,264 from its Bus Reserve Fund. The money will be used to purchase three 66-passenger buses, costing about $119,754 each, and to pay-off a $108,000 emergency bus lease made during the 2014-15 school year for a 66 passenger IC wheelchair bus. DeLilli said money spent out of the district’s Bus Reserve Fund, approved of by voters in 2015, does not affect local taxes because it makes bus purchases using state aid from prior bus purchases and prior year savings.

School board election

DeLilli said two school board members, board President Paul VanDenburgh and board member Kathy Dougherty, have terms that are expiring this year and they are not seeking reelection. School Board Vice President Jennifer Sponnoble is seeking re-election and no other candidates submitted paperwork to run for the two vacant seats.

DeLilli said all it takes is one write-in vote for a member of the public to be voted in for one of the vacant board spots. He said he’s not sure what would be done in the event of a tie, but he said the first thing the district will do is ask any write-in candidates if they really want the job.

“That’s so we know somebody isn’t playing a joke on somebody,” he said.

If no willing candidates receive write-in votes, the school board can appoint people to serve for the term of the two vacant seats.

The vote for the school budget, bus proposal and the school board is Tuesday. Voting will be from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Johnstown High School auditorium lobby.

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