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Riverhead school district seeks $7.5 million repair reserve fund

03/29/2017 1:46 PM |

The Riverhead school board plans to put a special proposition on the May 16 ballot asking voters to create a $7.5 million repair reserve, a fund similar to the $5 million in reserves approved in 2011 and 2015.

Superintendent Nancy Carney said the fund would be used toward recurring maintenance on facilities, fixtures and equipment that have decayed, deteriorated, weathered or broken.

“One of the goals and directives of this board was that we wanted to make sure we maintained our buildings,” Ms. Carney said at Tuesday’s school board meeting.

Board member Ann Cotten-DeGrasse said that in the past, maintenance costs were always the first thing to get cut because school boards didn’t think the budget could pass otherwise.

The repair reserves are funded by unspent money the district has left over at the end of each fiscal year.

According to deputy superintendent Sam Schneider, $736 remains in the 2011 reserve and $824,289 in the 2015 reserve.

The $7.5 million number, like the $5 million in the 2011 and 2015 reserves, represents the maximum amount that can be put in the reserve fund, he said.

If voters approve the proposed reserve, the 2011 and 2015 accounts will be closed and their balances will be moved into the new $7.5 million repair reserve, Mr. Schneider said.

Money in a reserve fund can be spent on repair projects but the Board of Education must first identify the projects it intends to pursue. A public hearing is required and then the Board of Educations must pass a resolution authorizing use of the repair reserve funds, Ms. Carney said.

“It’s been only two years since 2015, and $7.5 million is a lot of money,” said Sal Mastropaolo of Calverton, who questioned why this proposed bond is bigger than the previous two and suggested that surplus money be used to reduce taxes instead.

Mr. Schneider said the cost of construction has increased in the past two years, and that if the board did another $5 million repair reserve, it would be seeking additional money from voters “fairly soon.”

Tax increase cap of 3.77 percent

The budget the Riverhead school board sends to voters May 16 can increase the tax levy by no more than 3.77 percent in order to comply with the state’s tax cap law.

That law limits tax levy increases to 2 percent or the Consumer Price Index, whichever increase is less. For this year, the state has set the CPI number at 1.26 percent for the purpose of determining the tax cap.

Capital construction costs are exempt from the cap, however, and with those exemptions factored in, the tax cap for the Riverhead School District is 3.77 percent, Ms. Carney said.

The draft budget developed to date would require a 4.5 percent tax levy increase, so about $620,000 needs to be cut to comply with the cap, she said.

“Unless we get additional state aid, we’ll have to make some cuts to make the tax levy cap,” Ms. Carney said, adding that it doesn’t appear Gov. Andrew Cuomo plans to increase school aid to the district.

Special education costs are among the district’s biggest expenses and are expected to increase by about $2 million, the superintendent said.

$628,087 approved for repairs

The school board held a public hearing Tuesday night on a proposal to spend $628,087 from the 2015 repair reserve on six projects.

These include repairing electrical feeders at the high school and middle school and relocating transformers in both buildings; replacing a boiler at the middle school; replacing heating units at two portable classrooms at Phillips Avenue Elementary School; repairing sidewalks at Pulaski Street School; and replacing overhead doors at the new bus garage on Edwards Avenue, Ms. Carney said.

The board approved use of the reserve funds for those repairs later in the meeting. Only one member of the public spoke at the hearing, and that person just asked a question.

Three Board seats up

The Board of Education is scheduled to adopt a proposed budget on April 19. A public hearing on that budget will take place May 9 and the vote is May 16. School board seats currently held by Greg Meyer, Kim Ligon and Chris Dorr are up for re-election this year.

Anyone wishing to run for a seat on the board can pick up nominating petitions at the district office. They must be returned to the district by 5 p.m. Monday, April 17, Ms. Carney said.

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Photo: The Riverhead school board at Tuesday’s meeting. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

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