The article in last week’s Journal, disclosing the New York State Comptroller’s audit of the West Valley School District, came as no surprise. The findings that the WVCS school board, through deceptive accounting practices and shuffling of funds between reserve funds, resulted in “unnecessarily high taxes,” and a lack of transparency is not anything new.
In the May 12, 2011 Springville Journal, I called attention to the fact that our reserve funds were five times the amount New York state said we should have on hand. Our reserves were, and still are, higher than those of the entire Olean School District. I implored the board to use those reserves, instead of the 4 1/2 percent tax levy they imposed on the taxpayers, that year. No, when it comes to the board not being transparent, overtaxing and deceiving, we are used to that. The first surprise is that the NYS comptroller caught them doing their business-as-usual routine. The second surprise was that the comptroller did absolutely nothing about it. Why bother to do an audit and waste more taxpayers’ dollars, if all you are going to do about it, after finding serious improper conduct, is make recommendations?
The award for the best spin of the year, however, belongs to the superintendent and school board president’s reply to the comptroller. Instead of reacting with what should have been remorse and apologies for having used the taxpayers of West Valley as an ATM machine, they pat themselves on the back. In substance, they admit that they know they were overtaxing us, but facing the new, 2 percent cap, they knew they wouldn’t be able to pick our pocket later, so they did us a favor and took our money sooner. They also pat themselves on the back for being “fiscally conservative” and getting an A-plus bond rating. Of course they got an A-plus, Standard and Poors know they have five times the reserves most districts have. Being fiscally conservative is not based on how much you have in your piggy bank; it’s based on how much you are taxing your constituents. But they just don’t want to get it, never have and never will. They insist on keeping their own independence, instead of merging like they should have, years ago.
Next, we hear the same old lame excuse about the demonstration project and the inability to build our tax base. In reality, the biggest disincentive for attracting new development here is the high taxes the district imposes. Just eight miles to our south, Ellicottville continues to thrive, while we turn long-time residents into refugees running from the taxman. Just hold on a little longer.
Once they start hydrofracking here, all of our prayers will be answered and the West Valley School District will live happily ever after. Shame on the WVCSB and shame on the NYS comptroller.