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Mattituck-Cutchogue prioritizes salaries, taxes in proposed budget

Officials in the Mattituck-Cutchogue School District released a preliminary budget for the 2019-20 academic year, showing a spending plan on par to last year’s figures.

Superintendent Jill Gierasch unveiled the budget, estimated at $40.7 million, at a board meeting Thursday. It’s the first budget she’s overseen as superintendent in Mattituck after joining the district last June.

The expenditures are a 0.26 percent increase compared to last year.

“The proposal is a bit early this year,” she told board members. “But we’ve been hard at work since last July.”

The district reviewed prior year’s expenditures and considered areas of need to prepare this year’s budget, the superintendent said. This year’s budget proposes a “multi-year plan” for education programs and district initiatives, including post-graduate opportunities, technology enhancements, infrastructure changes, capital reserve funding and general district-wide improvements.

Slightly over half of the budget, about $21.2 million, will go toward salaries and related taxes, $6.7 million will go into health insurance and related needs. The other $12.8 million will go into utilities, facilities, textbooks, transportation, pupil personnel, debt services, technology, BOCES administrative costs, among other areas. The district tax levy, proposed at $36.8 million, is expected to increase by roughly $686,923 or 1.90 percent, compared to last year. The property tax cap, imposed by the state in 2012, limited the tax-levy increase to 2 percent with exceptions. The allowed statewide tax levy increase is calculated by the State Comptroller’s Office.

Business and Operations Administrator Kevin Coffey said the district has its own tax cap limit. The 2019-2020 statewide tax cap before exclusions is 2 percent.

Mr. Coffey said the district can no longer depend on state aid for a main source of revenue. The district is limited by the tax cap “formula,” he said, which places a limit on taxes, and by the Foundational Aid formula, a section of how aid is divided to each district. He feels the distribution of Foundation Aid provides little consideration to changing demographics and fluctuating enrollment.

The district’s enrollment is expected to decrease from last year, Ms. Gierasch said, with 61 fewer students expected in grades K-12 compared to last year.

Mr. Coffey said state aid does not cover the security and safety concerns the district plans to tackle in the future. For this reason, he said, some of the money in the Capital Reserve Fund will go into enhancing district security.

“To summarize, a key focus here is safety and security,” he said.

The Capital Reserve Fund is a separate account from the budget which operates for long-term investment projects and other anticipated expenses. The proposed numbers are based on continued discussions with architects and vendors, Mr. Coffey said.

Roughly $900,000 will be used to replace the 200 doors with added swipe and lock features throughout the high school and elementary school.

The highly discussed turf field was a standout on the Capital Reserve. The district would pay roughly $1.6 million to fund the turf field and surrounding area. It would be placed north of the tennis courts, parallel to the track — which Ms. Gierasch said would require a fence.

“We’re asking the architect to break down the cost of each of these items,” she said. “Although it looks pretty high, that’s including more than just the turf itself.”

Mattituck athletic director Greggory Wormuth is working to establish a subcommittee regarding the turf field, Ms. Gierasch said, to discuss the pros and cons. At the last meeting, vice president Marylynn Hoeg voiced support for the turf field while trustee Douglas Cooper expressed frustrations with wasting taxpayer finances.

Other priorities in the Capital Reserve include replacing air conditioning units throughout the district, security film, and swipe and locks.

The district is expected to hold public meetings regarding the budget and make adjustments based on federal, state and local demands. In May, the district will hold its annual budget vote.
Ms. Gierasch said a condensed version of the budget will be made available to parents in Spanish this year prior to the vote, but the details have not been finalized.

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Photo caption: Superintendent Jill Gierasch outlined the proposal at last week’s meeting. (Kate Nalepinski photo)