By Christine Sampson
The Sag Harbor School District on Monday unveiled an early 2017-18 budget figure of $40.08 million, which stays within the New York State-imposed tax cap limitations, reflects a possible decrease in state aid and incorporates anticipated increases to the district’s transportation budget.
That preliminary figure can change because it reflects the maximum tax levy increase Sag Harbor can impose while still only needing a simple majority of voter approval during the budget vote in May. The school board has yet to decide if it will incorporate that particular tax levy increase, which is about 3.79 percent, or if it will go lower, as the district did for the current year’s budget.
According to school business administrator Jennifer Buscemi, Sag Harbor saw so much development in the past year that “there are 70 school districts in Suffolk, and there are only four districts that have a higher tax base growth factor than we do.” She noted one of those is the Bridgehampton School District.
Sag Harbor is taking a conservative approach in estimating its revenues outside of the tax levy. For instance, the budget includes $450,000 in tuition from out-of-district students. The actual total could be as high as $500,885, but some of those students could transfer back out of the district and cause a loss of income, Ms. Buscemi said.
“Revenue projections are always conservative but also realistic based on the best available information at the time of the projection,” she said in an email Tuesday. “For the last two years, we have only had a variance of less than .25 percent on the revenue side of the budget.”
The overall transportation budget is projected to rise by about 39 percent. It includes salary increases for 18 bus drivers – including 11 who are reaching longevity status for their many years of service to the district – whose pay will total more than $390,300, an increase of about $14,200. The budget for field trips, athletics, shared school district services and driver overtime, along with bus monitor salaries, will increase from about $134,200 to about $206,900.
Payments to the Southampton School District for inspection, service and parts for the buses will rise from $28,000 to $45,000. Insurance is will rise from about $15,000 to $20,000, but spending on fuel will drop by $10,000 down to $114,500. Contractual services with outside companies, including backup buses when a Sag Harbor bus breaks down, will rise from $30,000 to $105,000.
The district is also exploring buying out the remaining three-year leases on three of its 18 buses, including the bus it acquired last year for its contract with the Wainscott School District, and starting the first year of a new lease agreement on one more bus. That would increase the equipment budget by more than threefold, up to $265,444, but the district would actually own three of them.
“I think if we can buy them outright it would be better than not having to keep this in the budget every year,” Ms. Buscemi said. “If we find this is an area where we have to make cuts, this is an area we can come back to.”
Sag Harbor will still receive $247,500 from Wainscott for busing, along with $6,000 from the Sagaponack School District. Looking ahead, Ms. Buscemi said the district’s fleet is aging, including one bus with more than 170,000 miles, two with more than 140,000 and two more with over 100,000, and will need to be replenished soon with new buses.
The district has about $400,000 in its bus reserve, which would cover four buses, but it has reached the ceiling the taxpayers established when they approved the reserve fund in 2010. Ms. Buscemi on Monday proposed the school board consider establishing a second transportation reserve fund to set aside money for additional buses in the future.
“If we had more than $400,000 set aside, that would be great,” she said. “I have the attorneys right now looking at the language for what our options are. It wouldn’t increase the tax levy at all. Any additional revenue left over from our transportation contracts would go into our reserve.”