West Valley Central School District officials are trying to explain to the public why they have been collecting more in taxes than they need to run the school. Despite the findings of a recent state audit, that determined the school’s officials have “consistently over-estimated expenditures over the past four years by more than $3.8 million,” the district has no intention of returning the money to its hardworking taxpayers.
Auditors found problems with all of the district’s reserve accounts and they did not accept school officials’ explanations for overcharging taxpayers. Instead, the audit team provided the school a list of recommended improvements, including developing realistic budgets, based on actual expenses. The audit team did not believe the district demonstrated a need for the “significant excess funds” that it has tucked away, and determined, “As a result, the district’s real property taxes were unnecessarily high and financial transparency to the taxpayers was diminished.”
According to a story published in the Jan. 4, 2014 issue of the Springville Journal, school business official Ann O’Brien claims the school needs the money, including $153,000 it has stuffed away in an unemployment reserve account. The audit team found district unemployment claims are only $14,000 a year and there is 11 years’ worth of unemployment money in this account. The district didn’t even draw money out of the account when it did have a claim; therefore, the report questions whether this reserve account is even needed. The audit team found several instances of over-budgeting.
The taxpayers of the West Valley School District deserve better. They deserve representation and fiscal management that accept the undeniable realities that face the district:
– Steadily declining enrollment has reduced student population to approximately 300 in grades K-12. A large influx of students will not occur to save the district.
– The school’s total tax rate of $23.83 per $1,000 assessed value is too high. Of West Valley’s neighboring districts, Franklinville has the next highest tax rate, at $18.85, and Ellicottville’s tax rate is $7.92.
I urge residents to read the audit report, available online at www.osc.state.ny.us/localgov, and look at neighboring district tax rates. See the Cattaraugus County website, “Real Property” tab.
West Valley school officials will be asking district residents to vote upon a capital improvement project, in the near future. Given the audit findings and its recommendations for corrective actions, the timing and validity of this project is suspect. Is this simply a way for the district to spend the money it has amassed, to avoid returning it to taxpayers? And if approved, will the district be spending taxpayer money on a facility it does not need and cannot fill with students?
WVCS officials will do nothing to change their course, unless they are forced to, by the district’s voters.
The only way taxpayers can protest the over-taxing tendencies of the West Valley Central School District and hold school officials fiscally responsible is to vote “no” on a capital project and “no” on the annual budget.