State releases Elba school audit findings

Brian Quinn

Batavia Daily News

Sep 6, 2018

ELBA — Taxpayers in the Elba Central School District might have saved a few hundred thousand dollars, the state says, if the school board used money from its reserve funds toward paying expenses and if it had kept the tax levy at 2013-14 levels.

The comptroller’s office Wednesday released findings from an audit of the Elba district. In its response to the audit, which covered the period from July 1, 2014, to Jan. 22, 2018, Elba said it agreed with most of the state’s findings. The state noted Elba’s fund balance was higher than the 4 percent limit allowed by statue in 2014-15 and 2015-16. Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s office said the school district should be using surplus money to pay one-time expenses, fund needed reserves, pay off debt and reduce property taxes.

As part of its response, the Elba district acknowledged that its fund balance was higher than the 4 percent statutory limit. It also felt, however, that intentionally taking money from its fund balance is poor practice.

“There’s really nothing in the report that took us by surprise,” Elba Superintendent Keith Palmer said Wednesday. He noted other districts received audits with the state making the same comments on their reserve funds.

“They’re pretty much same thing, overfunded reserves and overestimated expenditures,” Palmer said.

“This audit covers a certain amount of time period that doesn’t give the complete picture. About 3.5 years ago, we had a tremendous amount of cuts. If we had the money, we would be (bringing) back some of those positions ...” the superintendent said. “This report basically says we’ve got too much money. You’ve got too much in reserve. We’d much rather be accused of having too much money than not enough. When your expenditures exceed your revenues, than you’re in real trouble.”

Palmer said the Elba Central School District has kept under the state’s tax cap.

“Even our financial consultant tells you you have to be careful. If you draw down too much on your fund balance, you could be affecting your credit rating,” Palmer said. “I understand where the state’s coming from, but I also understand we want to be responsible with our budget (and) we want to be responsible with preparing for our future.”

The district chose to slowly bring back people it let go during staff cuts at that time - “to be bring them back slowly instead of all at once to make sure we don’t get in the same situation again,” Palmer said. The superintendent noted that not too long ago, Elba and other districts were dealing with gap elimination adjustment costs from the state.

“I think we’re moving in the right direction and I feel like we’ve done a nice job,” he said.

Elba is currently doing its homework on a proposed capital project of between $5 million and $7 million.

“Right now the board is reviewing the identified needs for proposed renovation, Palmer said. He said it would be nice to have a public vote on a proposal before the end of the year. Further details on the project were not available as of Wednesday.