Montgomery County

Audit: Fort Plain School District surplus too big

According to a recent state audit, the Fort Plain Central School District has the rarest of financia

According to a recent state audit, the Fort Plain Central School District has the rarest of financial problems — too much money on its hands.

The State Comptroller’s Office reported the district has stored away too much money in its fund balance for at least the last five years running.

“It’s an interesting problem to have,” said district business manager Carl Rockefeller.

According to the report, a school district is allowed to sock away no more than 4 percent of its yearly revenues. The idea is, the fund balance should be used to cut down what local property owners have to pay in taxes.

Over the period of the audit, the district exceeded the 4 percent threshold by a few percentage points each year.

In the 2007-8 academic year, it saved nearly $700,000 more than the statutory limit, then progressively less saved each year after that through 2011-12.

“Unexpended surplus funds at the end of the 2011-12 fiscal year totaled almost $1,334,000,” according to the report. “This represented over 7 percent of the next year’s appropriations, or almost $590,000 over the statutory limit.”

Rockefeller said the district was already on its way to correcting the problem, but was interrupted by an extraordinarily good year.

“It was a good year for the district,” he said, “but not a good year for cutting down on our fund balance.”

The winter was mild, and as a result the district lost fewer dollars to snow removal and energy bills.

It also received a sizable amount of aid from Medicare and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, both “windfalls” Rockefeller said pushed them over the government threshold of savings.

As money problems go, saving too much might not seem like a problem at all. But the Comptroller’s Office sees it as one.

“This practice of appropriating unexpended surplus funds … may have caused the district to levy more real property taxes than needed,” the audit stated. “Instead of using these balances to reduce the property taxes, the District’s budgetary practices have resulted in a retention of resources that could have been used for the benefit of District taxpayers.”

The report recommends the district spend some of the extra money by paying off debts, financing one-time projects and lowering property tax rates.

The district is working to comply, planning to put much of the extra funds toward transportation costs.

Even so, Rockefeller said the school district has always been financially responsible.

“Expenses can go up faster than our ability to pay them,” he said, adding that it is best to be prepared with money in reserve.

“Our actions have been guided by long-range plans that have taken into account previous and future massive state aid cuts,” Superintendent Douglas C. Burton wrote in his audit response.

According to Rockefeller, district property taxpayers should not be looking for their rates to go down.

“Our goal is to hold the line,” he said.

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