(Photo by Dion Ogust)

(Photo by Dion Ogust)

Onteora District school officials introduced a new school Tax Exemption law that could favorably impact military veterans, at the Thursday January 23, district Board of Education meeting held at Phoenicia School. “This exemption was just enacted for school districts,” said Assistant Superintendent for Business Victoria McLaren. “But historically this has been available for veterans through the other taxing authorities for a long time. If the district adopts these exemptions or approves these exemptions by March 1 they could be effective for this coming tax roll in September.” McLaren said there were three categories of exemptions: wartime; wartime with combat; and disability. “The State basic amount for wartime exemption is $12,000, the wartime with combat is an additional $8,000 and with disability is a $40,000 exemption (depending on disability).” How does this impact the taxpayer on a local level? The potential tax shift with veteran numbers calculated from County exemptions already in effect would be $170,000. McLaren said, “So that would mean that if we enacted those exemptions and all the people who had those exemptions at the county level took advantage of it, then we would have $170,000 basically shifted to other tax payers.” Breaking it down on an individual level would mean the tax burden would shift to an additional $5 per $100,000 on equalized assessed property value.

McLaren said the district would need to hold a public hearing before the Board voted on the change, “where we would need to discuss it and see if there is any input from the community; close the hearing then Dan Pettigrew (district lawyer) would provide us with a resolution and it would be voted on.” She said if the board approved the basic amount of $170,000 it could then, “entertain the idea of increasing it,” to three times the amount, which would cost other citizens $15 per $100,000 assessed value.

“I would like Veterans to get as much as they can, I just don’t know where the parameters are,” said Trustee Rob Kurnit.

McLaren said that district lawyers were just handed the change in January. “I think every district is having this same discussion because this is very new,” she said.

In related tax news, school officials continue to crunch budget numbers for the 2014/2015 school year. McLaren said they’re trying to “simplify some of the building budgets,” through centralizing some areas and where there is no spending activity. “We are currently at a budget increase of $718,000 which is a huge reduction from where we were a few weeks ago — well over $1.3 million,” said McLaren.

Employee health insurance will see an increase of approximately four percent and the transportation budget is uncertain due to an ongoing new bidding process. “We did have our pre-bid meeting yesterday,” said McLaren. “We had five contractors attend and that was a good group of people.” As more information is gathered, the budget numbers will continue to change, but at this point there have been no discussions of program cuts. Trustee Tony Fletcher pointed out that the tax burden continues to have an impact at a local level as the State continues to chip away at State aid. “It doesn’t make our job any easier when we see the Governor get up with a State of the State address and the budget, when he talks about putting extra money in education and here we got less money in education,” said Fletcher. Superintendent Phyllis Spiegel-McGill agreed and said, “If you look at the actual State aid, almost $8 million in 2006-07. We’re below that now.”

McGill said the State Comptroller’s office has been auditing school districts throughout the state and rating them on fiscal stress. “According to DiNapoli’s office, the staff analyzed our results, we have a fiscal score of zero percent, so they are saying we should not be feeling any fiscal stress at all.” She continued, “Which is interesting considering if we do not pass budgets under the new regulations, the tax levy goes to zero, so I think you can easily get stressful.” She commended school officials, trustees and the audit committee for managing the district responsibly.

In other news…

District officials and board trustees met with County Executive Mike Hein in order to search for ways to find a use for the West Hurley school building. McGill said, “We were trying to figure out a way to see if we could become part of the rail-trail initiative and looking at whether or not we could use the West Hurley building as a welcome site. Unfortunately, they have other plans in mind that doesn’t seem to mesh well with our building.”

McGill invited Onteora residents to attend informal coffee chats for the purpose of asking questions, obtaining information and meeting members of the community. The chats are held in the Central Administration Conference Room and the next meeting date is 8:30 a.m.-9:30 a.m. Wednesday February 12. These chats will be ongoing throughout budget season. Check the website for additional listings at onteora.k12.ny.us.

The latest FACTS student population report has been released and is available on the district website. McGill said she finds the report, “pretty accurate,” however it did not account for students coming in as a result of Woodstock’s new RUPCO housing or city transplants. FACTS projects 1409 students in Kindergarten-through-12 next fall and projects a drop by 2023 to 1167 students.

Applications are available for the Universal Pre-Kindergarten programs for next fall. Usually there are 23 spaces available and they tend to fill up quickly. To access an application, see the district website, Onteora.k12.ny.us or call Pupil Personnel at 657-3320. Your child must be age four on or before December 1, 2014.

Kindergarten enrollment for next September has been ongoing with a deadline of February 21. A Kindergarten packet is available by calling Kimberly Fisher at 657-3320 at ext.1023, or can be found at Woodstock and Phoenicia primary schools, and the District Office on Route 28 in Boiceville. McGill said early registration followed by screening is based upon a recommendation from the Pre-school providers.