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No spending cuts in Wilson contingency budget

WILSON – Despite a second defeat at the polls, the Wilson Central School budget for the coming school year will stay at $24.3 million, officials said Wednesday.

Voters turned that number down twice, once with a 4 percent tax levy increase and Tuesday with a 2 percent levy hike.

But Superintendent Michael Wendt said there will not be any further spending reductions. The gap resulting from having to stick with last year’s tax levy will be filled by appropriating more than $200,000 from a debt service reserve fund.

By state law, when a district’s budget is defeated twice, the district is not allowed to collect any more in taxes than it did the previous year.

That means a tax levy of slightly under $10.9 million will be collected for 2013-14, instead of the $11.1 million figure voters rejected Tuesday by a vote of 903 to 604.

Wendt said that on May 21, when voters defeated the first budget by a 698-414 margin, 75 percent of voters responding to an exit poll said they didn’t want any cuts in district programs.

John Montesanti, district business administrator, said about half of the voters responded to the May 21 exit poll, so it was a strong sample. No exit poll was taken Tuesday.

“For a number of the people, nothing is acceptable when it comes to raising taxes,” said Wendt, who received a new five-year contract last week. “This is a strong district. The voters have sent a message. I have to ascertain what I can do to bring this community back together.”

An anonymous flier mass-mailed to district residents criticized the Board of Education for not reducing spending on the second go-round. “Same budget? No reductions? Tell our Board of Education that no means no,” it proclaimed, accusing the board of “defying the will of district voters.”

“We brought possible cuts to the administrative team, and they thought they cut too far into programs,” Wendt said.

Spending in the budget increased $819,000, or 3.5 percent, from last year’s version. The largest factor in the increase was salaries, which rose more than $500,000.

“Reducing spending doesn’t necessarily change the tax status of the district. We decided to take it from another source,” said outgoing School Board President Timothy F. Kropp, who lost his re-election bid by 10 votes May 21.

Montesanti said the district went through its reductions already, when it cut about 25 positions during the past three years. There were no further job cuts proposed in the budget voters rejected, and there will be none now.

The main impact of the defeat will be that the district will have to start charging a fee to community groups who want to use school facilities. Wendt said that is a state requirement in cases where a contingency budget is in effect. The size of the fee will be determined in time for the July board meeting, Montesanti said.

He said the district’s debt service fund will stand at about $1.3 million at the close of 2013-14, since about $1 million is being spent.

The district has about $7 million in other reserves, but Wendt said they are earmarked for specific types of expenses, such as insurance and fringe benefits. “We’re less restricted in using debt service,” the superintendent said.

The direct-mail flier also criticized the board for not closing W.H. Stevenson Elementary School in Ransomville, one of two elementary schools in the district, which allegedly would have saved $500,000.

Kropp said the board voted that idea down twice this year, both times by 5-2 margins. He opposed it because it would have increased class sizes and “it would have been a huge detriment to the Ransomville side of the district.”

Wendt said, “Stevenson has been an ongoing discussion. A number of board members stood on what they thought they heard from the public.”

As for who mailed the flier, Wendt said, “There’s all kinds of rumors. People have a right to free speech. Items like that have an impact.”