Budget season heats up at Locust Valley Central School District


In a recent series of meetings, the Locust Valley Central School District unveiled its proposed budget for the upcoming 2024-25 school year. The presentations, held over the course of several months, provided a detailed breakdown of the budgetary considerations and tax cap calculations, shedding light on the district’s financial priorities and strategies.

Crucial to the proposed budget are capital reserve projects, essential for the upkeep and improvement of district facilities. With a detailed breakdown of recent projects and upcoming initiatives, officials outlined plans for infrastructure enhancements, including track bleachers, locker room renovations and roof replacements.

Toni Meliambro, the district’s assistant superintendent for business and human resources, emphasized that the funds from the capital reserve, which currently holds over $13 million, will not impact taxpayers. She explained that the capital reserve fund is paid for by money taken out of the budget every year, and is used for essential projects that the district, for whatever reason, cannot fund using the annual budget.

“This does not affect your taxes at all,” Meliambro said. “This is money that has already been put aside for capital work.”

Of particular interest were the challenges faced in executing these projects, as delays and cost fluctuations necessitated meticulous planning and budgetary adjustments. Nonetheless, the district remains committed to delivering quality facilities while ensuring fiscal prudence and transparency.

At the February 15 meeting, district officials outlined the current financial landscape, emphasizing a 2.9 percent increase in the 2023-24 budget, with a corresponding 2 percent tax levy increase. Revenue sources were delineated, with local tax levy accounting for a substantial 92 percent share, followed by state aid at 5.7 percent. Salaries and benefits were identified as the primary expenses, constituting 74 percent of the district’s budget.

This year, the district will be increasing the tax levy by 1.96 percent, which comes to an increase of slightly under $1.7 million. This represents only a fraction of the tax levy limit that the district can draw from, which is as much as $88 million.

Key to understanding the budgetary process is the calculation of the tax cap, which limits property tax increases for local governments. This formula incorporates factors such as the tax base growth factor, inflation, pilots (payment in lieu of taxes), and exclusions. Through meticulous calculations, officials arrived at a tax cap limit of 1.95 percent for the 2024-25 fiscal year, demonstrating a conservative approach to tax increases over the past five years.

“The New York state formula is designed to limit the amount which local governments can increase property taxes,” Karen Horoszewski, the district’s school bus administrator and one of the budget drafters, explained. “This formula calculates the allowable increase of the property tax levy.”

The meeting further delved into the draft budget concerning non-instructional codes, encompassing various categories such as general support, pupil transportation, and community services. Detailed adjustments and reallocations were presented, reflecting both cost-saving measures and necessary investments to enhance operational efficiency.

Fast forward to the March 20 meeting, where the district provided an update on budget presentation number three. The focus remained on the current year’s budget, tax cap calculations, instructional budget codes, and capital reserve projects. Notably, salaries, benefits, and contractual obligations were highlighted as major components, collectively comprising 91.5 percent of the budget.

A comprehensive explanation of the tax cap calculation process underscored the district’s adherence to fiscal responsibility and prudent financial management. Despite the availability of higher tax levy options, the district consistently opted for a restrained approach, leaving approximately $3.1 million unlevied over the past years.

“The district has consistently opted not to reach the maximum allowable levy,” Horoszewski said.

Looking ahead, the district emphasized ongoing collaboration between stakeholders, including the administration, board, and community members, to refine the budget and address evolving needs. With upcoming milestones such as budget adoption and public hearings, district officials highlighted their dedication to serving the students and community while maintaining financial sustainability.