District Growth Should Have Positive Effect On School Tax Bills, Superintendent Says

FULTON, NY – Taxpayers in the Fulton school district can expect to see a slightly lower school tax bill in the coming year.

The Fulton Board of Education established the 2008-09 school district tax levy Tuesday evening. Superintendent Bill Lynch explained that the levy of $18,037,851 represents a 3.43 percent increase from the 2007-08 school year but is expected to result in an average tax rate decrease of 4.92 percent. On average, a taxpayer will see a decrease from $26.14 to $24.85 per $1,000 of assessment on true value, he said.

The 2008-09 budget presented to voters in May came with a $17,837,851 tax levy, reflecting a 2.29 percent year-to-year increase. However, the end of a payment in lieu of tax (PILOT) agreement with Erie Power hydro plants resulted in modifications.

The properties have been placed on the tax rolls by the city of Fulton, increasing the school district tax levy by $300,000. The board of education opted to increase the appropriated fund balance within its budget plan from $300,000 to $400,000 to lower the overall amount of the levy.

“Our budget is two sided,” Lynch said. “The PILOT payment was taken out of a revenue line but the board opted to apply another $100,000 to the appropriated fund balance. That will lower the revenues we need to collect from the tax levy.”

Assemblyman Will Barclay was credited for securing a $200,000 grant for the district last spring. Half of those funds were used to increase the appropriated fund balance.

Lynch noted that the district also saw several small unanticipated surplus lines while closing the books on this past school year.

“We came in under budget by about $230,000,” he said. The district received a refund from BOCES services and some surplus revenue from its participation in an energy consortium. Some of that money was applied toward an employee benefit reserve, he said.

Lynch said that the district’s unappropriated fund balance heading into the new budget cycle stands at just over 3 percent, rather than the standard 2 percent the district works to maintain. That money will be available for surprise expenses, he said, such as cuts in state aid or energy and fuel increases as the district begins its budget planning for the following school year.

While the district has conservatively planned to receive $300,000 from the hydro plants in the coming school year, Lynch noted it is likely that figure will be more.

“We built our budget with the $300,000 figure,” he said. “But we believe the tax bills for the hydro plants could be bigger than that. If that happens, the hydros will contribute more to the levy and everyone else would pay slightly less.”

The district sent its levy information to the county Wednesday. Lynch said tax bills are expected to be printed this week or next week.

Another positive change to this year’s taxable property list, he said, is the addition of the Wal-Mart Supercenter in Granby.

“Wal-Mart comes on line this year at full assessment for the school district,” he said. “While the district’s size has been stagnant for some time, we are starting to see some growth.”

Beneficial Change

While there was an application for renewal, the city of Fulton and the school district supported the expiration of the hydro plant PILOT agreement earlier this year.

“We were pleased that the PILOT was not renewed,” Lynch said. “Putting those properties on the tax rolls is fair to the district and to taxpayers. …(The company) had the benefit to get up and running with the PILOT for 10 years.”

Fulton Mayor Ronald Woodward said that the hydro plants were put on the tax rolls with an $18,700,000 assessed value nearly a month ago.

“That number was provided by the New York State Real Property Tax office in Albany,” Woodward said. “Having the company on the tax rolls will be more favorable for the city, the county and the school district.”

Woodward noted that while Fulton weighed in, the county Industrial Development Agency had the final say over the extension request.

“We are pleased,” Woodward said. “The IDA was fair and open minded through the process. They looked at every side before making the decision.

“Now, if any one of the three taxing entities sees an increase, (the company) will share in that increase, instead of leaving whole the burden on the taxable properties left,” Woodward said. “It is more fair to everyone.”

For the past three years, Woodward said Fulton has received a $266,000 PILOT contribution from the company each year. While the city will not see a difference this year, Woodward said he anticipates Fulton will receive between $40,000 and $45,000 in additional property tax revenue from the hydro plants in 2009.