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State audit accuses Albion schools of overtaxation

ALBION – The Albion Central School District passed inaccurate budgets the last six years in a row, building up a $13 million surplus to be spent on a building improvement project that begins this summer while imposing a tax levy 24 percent higher than necessary, the State Comptroller’s Office charged in an audit released Wednesday.

The district could have charged $2 million less in property taxes each year while still producing an operating surplus, the audit alleged.

Superintendent Michael S. Bonnewell responded that the district was trying to protect itself against “inconsistency” of state aid while reducing or freezing the tax levy in nine of the past 10 years and saving $4.6 million in interest payments on its debt.

“The Board of Education is committed to improving its operations and looks forward to comparable successes over the next decade,” Bonnewell wrote to the Comptroller’s Office.

Besides the overlarge general fund surplus, the audit said Albion also kept unnecessarily large amounts in dedicated reserve funds. The retirement fund was $7.8 million as of last year, 18 times larger than the district’s annual average contribution to the state pension fund. The $244,000 unemployment insurance reserve fund was 22 times more than the district’s annual unemployment costs.