By Susan Monteleone
ELDRED February 25, 2005 Eldred Central School Board President Vincent Zike is once again trying to keep the public informed of the upcoming budget process in hopes that his explanations will make it clearer.
The Eldred Central School District has begun its 2005-06 budget process, and on February 3, the board held its first workshop, which offered a presentation and a group work activity involving members of the school community and individual school board members.
"At this workshop, 25 taxpayers provided the school board members with a laundry list of ideas to improve the school district, Zike said. We did appreciate the input of the public and we will be taking all of their thoughts and suggestions into consideration.
Zike further commented that there will be some changes in the budget planning process for the year and noted that he simply wants to keep the public informed on what he feels about the budget himself and that his views are strictly his alone.
Zike stated that "the board will present a budget to the taxpayer that is representative of community input and administrative recommendations. The board will further present a budget that will protect taxpayers and provide for the fiscal health and stability of the school district. It will be no frills but will be adequate. We will add to or develop programs that the board members agree on and will eliminate or modify any that we feel are not beneficial."
He went on to state, "The budget will be high, and it will be a heavy hit. The biggest complaint I have heard since I have been a board member is why the budget continues to go up so much."
Zike has reviewed past budgets and has come up with his own views as to why Eldred has presented low budgets to the public in the past.
"First, the previous administration, under the previous supt. and perhaps other supts., submitted very low budgets (e.g. 2000-2001: 4.99 percent, 2001-2002: 1.54 percent). In my view, these budgets were irresponsibly low. During those times, new buses were not purchased, maintenance was unable to fully address the needs of the school district, the teachers at our elementary school had to park in a mud lot, and our overall programs suffered," stated Zike.
He went on to add, "Prior to that, the district built a new elementary school on a swamp and did not properly supervise the construction of the facility. As far as the taxpayers are concerned, those administrators and board members were heroes.
Well, the time has come to pay the piper. Buses were not replaced on schedule, and the existing buses were left to rot on a wet field which continues to cause speedy deterioration up to the present day. As a result of these conditions, the school district has had to look for alternative bus facilities, and the school buildings need maintenance, major repairs and major upgrades. As a result of the less-than-adequate planning in the initial construction of the elementary school, the physical education field needs to be repaired (the septic system) and this will be expensive.
"We will have to deal with the Mirant issue in this budget, and we must remind the taxpayers that they must now pay for actions taken by a town assessor and the justice system, he continued, speaking of the hydroelectric companys success in having its assessment dramatically lowered. In the past three years, retirement costs have skyrocketed, and from 2002-2005, retirement costs have gone up more than 695 percent, and additionally fuel costs and health costs have also increased dramatically.
Zike added, "President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act has left the school district budgets behind all across the country and not just here. The new mandates imposed on the districts by this act are expensive, and very little money is offered to offset those costs."
On the matter of the local real estate boom, he said, "I feel that people seeking safe investments turned to real estate, and the result is the rising selling prices of property in the country. I have heard too often that the school district taxes went up by enormous amounts. This is due to the rising property value, years of underassessments, followed by a very brief period of assessment adjustments.
Zike also wanted the taxpayers to know that he too is feeling the price of higher taxes.
"I purchased a home in 1999, since that time, my property taxes have doubled. That is ridiculous, and I relate to all the taxpayers that feel the same crunch, but there is a basic fact here. The school budget has not doubled, not even close! The taxpayer needs to understand how the system works and they need to direct their questions and their complaints to the right agency (the town assessors office)," commented Zike.
In conclusion, Zike noted, "I wish to point out that the school district [tax hike] is going to be higher than we would like. It is the voters decision to approve or not to approve, and my main responsibility is to lead the board in preparing the best budget we can and to make every effort to inform the public about what we are doing," he stated.
Zike is urging the public to attend school board budget meetings and to take part in the budget process.