Baldwinsville Central School District overestimated expenses by $11.3 million and used the surplus to overfund reserve accounts by more than $7.7 million, according to an audit released last week by State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. Officials said the surplus could have been used to significantly reduce the district's property tax rate.
"Setting money aside for a rainy day is a good idea, but reserves have to be funded the right way," DiNapoli said. "All across New York, families are struggling to make ends meet. Now is not the time to be over-taxing homeowners. The Baldwinsville Central School District needs to more accurately estimate its expenses, stop overfunding reserves and use the money to reduce the tax levy or pay for one-time expenses."
The audit, which looked at the district's finances for the 2006-07 and 2007-08 fiscal years, found the district did not make sure its budget estimates were reasonable and did not maintain reserves in accordance with state law. By underestimating revenues and overestimating expenses, reserve funds increased to more than $16 million.
District officials defended their actions claiming calculations have benefited taxpayers.
"The comptroller implies unfairly that the district has not been 'realistic' in its budget assumptions adding to the burden on taxpayers," said Kelly Cary, the Baldwinsville Central School District's public information officer. "This prudent approach has protected the district's instructional programs and taxpayers. The fact that our tax levy for 2009-10 is the same as the prior year demonstrates the district's fiscal responsibility. Our tax rate per thousand for 2009-10 is $22.83; five years ago it was $24.20."
Cary added the district also takes exception to the comptroller's opinion regarding the methodology used in the development and calculation of its various reserves. One example is the limited view taken by the Comptroller regarding the district's funding of the Tax Certiorari reserve.