Wallets in Commack will be fuller than expected during tax
season this year, due to unexpected savings in the school budget.
When New York State adopted a cap on the tax levy increase, residents were required to vote on the tax levy limit, in addition to the school budget. However, school districts may set a tax levy lower than the figured approved after they close out their books for that year. In May, Commack voters approved a maximum tax levy increase of 2.91 percent, however, residents will only see their tax levy burden go up by 1.58 percent, after the Board of Education set the tax levy Thursday night.
Laura Newman, assistant superintendent for business, said that the school district incurred an additional $1.7 million in savings than it had anticipated during the 2012-13 school year.
Much of the unplanned savings came from the district’s new special education program. Since the start of the program, students that previously attended other schools for instruction have been able to return to the district, and Commack no longer has to pay tuition to outside schools. In addition, Commack is now seeing revenue generated from the program since students from outside districts are now using Commack’s services and paying tuition to Commack. Also, BOCES tuition for high-needs students was lower than anticipated, Newman said.
Other savings were generated from the district’s decision to switch carriers for employee benefits, which resulted in lower health insurance premiums. The district also refinanced its debt to lower its interest rates. The district also renegotiated its transportation contracts to lower its costs.
“We looked over all areas to accomplish savings that totaled more than $11 million,” Newman said.
Before the board meeting, auditor Peter Rodriguez of Cullen and Danowski gave Commack School District an unmodified opinion on the board’s budget, which he explained is the highest level of opinion and states that the district presented its assets and liabilities fairly and said that he did not find any material weaknesses.
Trustee James Tampellini questioned if the district’s high level of surplus funds would be frowned upon by the State Comptroller’s office, in the way that the Mount Sinai School District’s was when it was discovered that the district was pocketing more than the legal limit of its reserves. Rodriguez said that there was one major difference between Commack’s surplus and Mount Sinai’s.
“The difference is that they kept it. You gave it back to the taxpayers,” he said.
“It’s never been this high - the unexpended fund balance - but it happened and I think you did the right thing with it by giving it back and not storing it away,” the auditor told the board.
After the auditor’s report, Tampellini made a motion to consider adding residents with financial and budget-making experience to a budget committee. The board agreed to put it on next month’s agenda.