Oswego School Chief: Budget Process Held Hostage By Gov. Cuomo

By Bill Foley, OCT Contributing Writer

OSWEGO, NY – School district budget planning is always a stressful, emotional and time-consuming process. But this year, it’s much more difficult.

Monday evening the Oswego City School District Board of Education met for committee and regular sessions, but the spotlight was on an item that wasn’t even listed on the agenda…the budget.

Governor Andrew Cuomo is basically holding school districts throughout the state hostage as he refuses to allow a state aid run.

In the past, districts have received this information after the governor presents a budget proposal, but this year the state leader changed the game plan.

Apparently, he will not release the runs until after a budget is adopted.

This creates a massive problem for school districts and especially in Oswego where there are “two elephants in the room.”

Oswego Superintendent of Schools Ben Halsey indicated that formulating a budget is difficult enough without state numbers, but in the case of his district there is also pending negotiations with the nuclear power plant.

Currently, the nuclear power  plant is on the tax rolls. In the past the plant was covered under a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreement.

That has expired.

There apparently has been little progress in working toward an agreement and a reduction in assessed value could mean millions of lost tax money for the district, thus affecting local taxpayers.

This was the first budget discussion of the year.

Halsey said that he had supplied the board members with information that  included “need and wish list items as well as big ticket items” and that budget number would be $85 million as compared to the current $79.9 million budget.

Also included in that figure is money relating to the nuclear power plant impact whether is remains on the tax rolls or receives another PILOT agreement.

He said, “I anticipate that at the next board meeting (district business manager) Nancy (Squiers) and I will make a formal power point presentation showing you the scenarios of expenditures and how they match up with anticipated revenues. We will show you what the gap would be if there was a gap.”

He explained “there are too many unknowns in the budget process right now to do a presentation that would have any merit to you.”

Even though there might be $85 million in expenditures for the district as presented in draft form to the board, there is “no revenue to match up” at this time according to Halsey.

“We are in high end discussions (with the nuclear power officials) as that area is a large source of revenue that is currently on the tax rolls,” he added.

Whatever the outcome at the table this “will have a significant impact in our budget.”

The second year superintendent of schools said, “In the next couple of weeks we hope to see state aid runs.”

At the next board meeting, Halsey will present not one, but three budget scenarios.

He said, “I will present you what if scenarios and as far as the negotiations with the other revenue source (nukes) they are ongoing and we will have to plug those numbers in as it plays out.”

The Oswego City School District Board of Education must adopt its budget by April 24 to present to the voters on May 19.

In years past, the budget process has usually lasted five months.

This year, the board of education will be lucky if it has five weeks to present a financial budget proposal that impacts the students and taxpayers.