With more information, Lewiston-Porter School District officials can finally nail down precise tax rates for residents to pay during the 2013-14 school year.
At a special meeting Tuesday, the district school board adopted its tax warrant, which finalizes rates for assessed value taxation, figures only estimated when voters approved a budget in June.
"Between the vote and now, there's a period of time where people can make claims to lower their assessments on their homes," new Interim Assistant Superintendent for Administrative Services Susan Villiers said. "Of course, when assessments go down, the tax rates go up."
For 2013-14, the district will collect $23.2 million in taxes, a levy set by voters when they approved a budget in the middle of June. To accomplish this, residents in Lewiston will be responsible for paying $23.67 per $1,000 assessed value on property. Residents in Porter, meanwhile, will pay $20.36 per $1,000 assessed value.
Compared to figures from 2012-13 – $22.87 per $1,000 in Lewiston and $19.74 per $1,000 in Porter – taxes will increase $0.80 per $1,000 in Lewiston and $0.62 per $1,000 in Porter. Percentage-wise, it comes out to 3.5 percent and 3.1 percent increases, respectively.
The difference comes from the equalization rates, determined by New York state based on the value of assessments the towns submit each year. Equalization rates act as a multiplier on the believed true value of property.
Unfortunately for the district's planning, the equalization rates are unknown aren't set until the middle of summer, months after districts set a budget.
"We don't know the equalization rates (at the time of the budget vote)," Superintendent R. Christopher Roser said. "Those figures were estimates."
In addition to higher taxes, officials also revealed a planned increase in school lunch prices for each school heading into September. Roser said the move was brought on by multiple forces acting against the district's lunch program, which is funded separately from the tax-affected general fund.
One of those forces acting on Roser's decision was a federally-mandated formula, which was brought to his attention by the district's food service contractor, Personal Touch. In the formula, he said, a 7 percent minimum increase is expected to be built in across the board.
He said the district decided a $0.05 increase for all elementary and secondary student lunches, with other, larger increases for other items, would satisfy this requirement. At least with full-price meals, that is.
"I don't remember a time we've had to raise lunch prices since I've been here," Roser said. "There's no easy way to do it. But we decided the best way to do it is to raise all meals by five cents."
Price changes will force elementary level lunches to $1.85, while middle school and high school students will pay $2 starting next month. all reduced-price meals will remain at $0.25 per meal. A la carte items like pretzels, cookies and slush will also see varied increases in prices, some more than the five cents for full lunches, while adult meals will also go up considerably.
Breakfast prices will remain the same, set at $1.25 and available before the school day begins.
While federally mandated percentages are easy to calculate, another reason for increasing the prices comes after the district reported its lunch fund, which operates independently of the general fund and is not intended to rely on property taxes, operated at a deficit last year.
It's an issue Roser said is being remedied, after students were charging district accounts for lunches without the money available. It's a practice the school board ended in January, especially at the high school level. But some of the overdue money has yet to be collected.
Betty Warrick, who was just elected to the school board this past May, said parents aren't entirely comprehending how the situation became so dire.
"The problem a lot of people seem to be having is we have a policy that's not being followed," she said. "There's no money in the account, but lunch ladies have been allowing students to charge and charge and charge."
Roser said this isn't possible anymore and added student account details are available through the school's online system, which not only allows parents to view account finances, but also detailed information on what items students are purchasing for lunch. In addition, new protocols will also be employed beginning in September to avoid overcharging or charging the wrong account, he said, including a fingerprint scanner to access an account even without a swipe card identification.