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Vestal Residents Speak Out Against Proposed School Tax Hike

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A group of Vestal residents and Reclaim NY, an activism organization, are speaking out against a proposed increase in school taxes. The Vestal Central School District has proposed a tax increase of 1.4% for the 2018 through 2019 budget. 

"Year after year, the same old story," says Vestal resident John Filip, "Either we need it or not, the tax goes up."

Residents say instead of using taxpayer money, the district has plenty set aside in reserves to balance the budget.

"I agree with having a rainy day fund, but I feel like the vestal School District right now has a rainy decade fund," says Rick Frisbie, who lives in Vestal and says he's calculated what the increase would cost him over the next ten years: $3,500.

According to an audit conducted by the New York State Comptroller in 2017, the district has consistently overprojected spending the past several years. That resulted in the unassigned fund balance exceeding the legal amount the district could hold there. Reclaim NY says that multi-million dollar fund balance is enough to cut Vestal property tax in half.

Reclaim NY also says the district's tax certiorari fund is 16 times what the district spends in an average year.

"In the past five years, the district has never spent more than 756,000 dollars out of that account, yet, with a balance of 6.5 million, that balance is 16 times larger than the district uses on average," says George Phillips, Reclaim NY Southern Tier Regional Director.

Frisbie says if the district just rearranged their funds, they could cover their balance without asking for more money from taxpayers.

"If they take 3 million dollars from this reserve and funnel it back into the general fund, my taxes will go down by $150 a year, instead of going up by $70 a year," says Frisbie.

Reclaim NY says they've collected hundreds of signatures on a petition which they turned into the district offices on Monday. They plan on turning in a second petition Tuesday.

The school district issued the following statement in response to the protest:

The Vestal Central School District’s mission is to educate the children of the community in which it serves. With that, the District also has a responsibility for making sound financial decisions that are in the best interests of all students and taxpayers alike. This obligation is taken very seriously. By employing fiscal strategies that meet the short-term financial commitments and ensure long-term fiscal health, the Vestal Central School District is able to continue providing a sustainable and high-quality educational program. The District’s Fiscal Stress Designation and credit rating are evidence of its continued viability. The State Comptroller’s office has classified the District with a fiscal stress score of zero percent, and the most recent credit assessment resulted in a Moody’s Aa2 rating. The District’s core philosophy is to provide stability through both mild and difficult times. Applying these budgetary strategies allows the District to avoid significant fluctuations in taxes, while also remaining compliant with all statutes and regulations, including both the maximum allowable tax levy and limits on fund balances.