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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Fiscal Stress..

According to the NYS Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli's website, his office:
"created an early warning system for communities and school districts with fiscal problems. Alerting everyone to potential problems gives local officials and taxpayers the opportunity to be more proactive."

I like to view his report each year to see where local municipalities stand regarding these benchmarks.

The system, which is currently using 2015 data, has two components; Financial and Environmental.

According to the 2015 date, New Hartford is at 0% for Environmental which takes into account Change in Property Value; Change in Enrollment; Trend in First Budget Vote Being Defeated; Change in Approval Percentage for the First Budget Vote; Graduation Rate Percentage; and Free or Reduced Priced Lunch Percentage.

However, the Financial component is based on Unassigned Fund Balance; Total Fund Balance; Operating Deficits; Cash Ratio; Cash as a Percentage of Monthly Expenditures; Short-Term Debt Issuance; Short-Term Debt Issuance Trend.

I was surprised to learn that for 2015 New Hartford Central School is extremely close to being considered "Susceptible to Fiscal Stress".

New Hartford's 2015 stress score (figured by reports sent to the State Comptroller's office) is 23.3%...the benchmark for being considered susceptible is a score of 25% or more.

The report also shows that in 2014, their stress score was 0% and 6.7% in 2013. What happened in 2015 for such a drastic change?

Looking at the Excel spreadsheet for New Hartford, it would appear that their problems are primarily use of fund balance and budget deficits.

As a taxpayer, my questions would be...

  • is the school board aware of the Comptroller's report 
  • has the school implemented a plan to address its financial situation?

You can view the reports and read documentation on how the reports are created by visiting the NYS Comptroller's Office Fiscal Stress Monitoring System.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Changes to the NYS STAR exemption...

Governor Cuomo signed legislation on April 13, 2016 enacting significant changes to the NY School Tax Relief ("STAR") exemption program.

The changes apply only for new homeowners that purchased a home in New York State, on or after March 1st of 2015.

Instead of new homeowners receiving an exemption on their tax bill, they will receive a school tax bill for the entire amount owed and the State will send a check supposedly in September.

Details are sketchy as to just how this will work (will you have to apply or is reimbursement automatic?) and seem to vary to some degree depending on what website you visit; there isn't a lot of clear information on the Dept. of Taxation and Finance website at this point either.

Many newspaper, lawyer, and assessor websites are reporting that a brochure will be received from the State sometime in May to explain the process. So for those affected, the brochure is in the mail and you should receive something to explain the process any day now!

There are already fears of the impact on new homeowners who have escrow accounts. It has been suggested by some that if you have a mortgage on your new home, and your taxes are paid through escrow, you may want to contact your escrow company to see how your mortgage payments are calculated (STAR exemption considered or not).

The reasoning behind the change is for the schools to get some of the STAR exemption monies sooner instead of having to wait for the state to reimburse them as they have in the past.

In other words, as one State Assemblyman put it in one news article I read, "It’s the taxpayer that waits to get the check".

Lovely...welcome to New York State!

For more information...

Visit the NYS Dept of Taxation and Finance here!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Good News...

Last night a message was received from a Peter, Paul and Mary (they asked that their last names not be used).

In response to the blog "Who Planted the trees in the town’s right-of-way", they stated that their theory is:
"The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind.
Whew...sounds plausible; hopefully now the town can get on to other business.

New Hartford Town Board meetings are now only held once a month, unless some extraordinary circumstance merits a second meeting; it has been that way since January 2016. This month, the meeting lasted less than 23 minutes, if you don’t count the Pledge of Allegiance at the start of the meeting.

Funny how the "economic engine" of Oneida County doesn't seem to have a lot of public business to discuss. I've said it before...deja vous, anyone?

Besides the tree planting mystery, the only other notable item was a special announcement by Jay Winn, the President of the New Hartford Library Board of Trustees during the public comment portion of the meeting.

Without further ado, grab a bowl of popcorn or your favorite snack and watch the complete video of the May 11, 2016 town board meeting:

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Who planted the trees in the town's right-of-way?

So far, the only lead the town has received is this picture that mysteriously turned up on the town supervisor's desk Thursday morning; the day after the question was posed (and discussed ad nauseum) by the town supervisor during discussions at the May monthly town board meeting.

The picture seems to indicate that a small white puppy may have been involved in perhaps some small way (perhaps he was the water boy); however it is difficult to tell from the pictures who else was at the scene of the crime.

Experts who have been contacted by Town Supervisor Tyksinski feel that the picture is a bit suspicious since according to the town highway superintendent many of the trees involved in this "whodunit" mystery are thirty or more years old.

Anyone who has any leads or knows anyone from the past who had a penchant for planting trees in the town's right-of-way, please come forward so that this case can be put to rest and we can look forward to a more productive June town board meeting!

The videotape of the May town board meeting that lasted about 30 minutes will be online very soon. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Hannaford-to-Go planned for Commercial Drive store….

On May 9, 2016, the New Hartford Planning Board heard a proposal by J.M. Lord, a project official from Hannaford. The plan is for a Hannaford-to-go to be an added feature at the Commercial Drive location.

Mr. Lord explained that the existing parking lot would be reconfigured to allow for a pick-up lane. Orders are placed online and after the order is placed, a pick-up time would be given.

To get their order, the customer would enter the pick-up lane to pay and the groceries would be loaded into the customer’s car by a Hannaford employee. The customer never has to leave their car.

Mr. Lord stated that Hannaford’s already has these options at several other stores and it has been a success. Although, I am sure there will be a charge for this service, Mr. Lord did not go into specific details.

The project was unanimously approved.

You can hear the presentation on the video (at about 6 minutes 30 seconds into the video) of the May 9, 2016 Planning Board meeting below:

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Just the facts, ma'am....

Seems that I have a couple of readers (or perhaps they are the same person) who claim to know everything there is to know about education in Florida:
Anonymous #1 wrote:

Wonderful! Our future is our children. The more we focus on them the better. Florida is an option for small minded residents.

May 6, 2016 at 5:55:00 AM EST
Anonymous #3 wrote:

Not on the Board by the way. If this state and education system is so bad why are we ranked well above most other states including Florida where you might as well head. No need to respond as I am done with this blog. Absolute nonsense from a bitter person.

May 7, 2016 at 9:50:00 AM EST
You can read the responses in the comment section on the last post.

It would appear that at least one of these anonymous posters is basing the school "greatness" on their perception of rankings by U.S. News & World Report magazine without bothering to check the facts. Let me "school" the anonymous poster(s) on education in Florida vs. New Hartford, New York using statistics from that very same publication.

New Hartford Central School, recently ranked as a Gold Medal school, is ranked #399 nationally. Comparing New York schools on a national level, forty-nine (49) other New York schools received a higher national rank than New Hartford Central.

In Florida twenty-seven (27) schools ranked higher than New Hartford when compared on a national level. Not bad for Florida that probably has many more disadvantaged students than New Hartford, eh?

The point is and has always been that New Hartford is an aging community with older homes. As the elderly move out and leave their older homes, others are all too eager to buy these homes and turn them into rentals. There was just a fellow at the last Zoning Board meeting who in his terms "was making an investment in New Hartford" by fixing up homes to rent.

Wake up people. The "old money" people are leaving and as they do, younger, less affluent people are moving in because we have such a wonderful school system. The statistics clearly show that New Hartford's economically challenged population is growing; however the school board and school administrators are burying their heads in the sand. They prefer to tout how wonderful the school is and add more AP classes to bolster their "ranking".

In 2014, Newsweek changed the way they rank the schools by including economically challenged student performance as part of their methodology. New Hartford hasn't received a "medal" from Newsweek since 2014.

This year U.S. News started to include disadvantaged students in determining the ranking of a school (see How U.S. News Calculated the 2016 Best High Schools Rankings).  How much longer before New Hartford no longer receives a medal from that publication?

New Hartford can add all the AP classes they want to try to remain on the "Top" lists, but eventually, they will have to come up with a strategy to serve ALL students if they want to remain on top.

If serving all students was not an important part of ranking a school district, why would these publications change their methodology in determining which schools make the list?

No one is saying that New Hartford is not a great school. What is being said is that the school board and administrators need to start being cognizant of the changes taking place around them. A top school takes care of the needs of all of its students. Like hearing it or not, New Hartford is failing in that department.

Please feel free to disagree with me if you would like, but keep your adjectives to yourself until you study the facts and can defend what you are saying.


Looking at the spreadsheet below, does anyone notice any trends in the New Hartford Central School District's enrollment and disadvantaged student numbers?

Click on the graphic for a larger pdf view!

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Schools Plan to Spend at Twice Inflation Rate

According to the Empire Center:
"Fueled by an increase in state aid and higher property taxes, the 669 school districts subject to New York’s property tax levy cap plan to spend 2.8 percent more per student in 2016-17 than they did this year, according to an analysis released today by the Empire Center for Public Policy. Per-pupil tax levies, meanwhile, would increase by an average of 1.3 percent."

How do local school districts rate on their 2016-2017 spending plans?

Click on the picture for a larger pdf view!

To read how other school districts ranked and for more information...Schools Plan to Spend at Twice Inflation Rate