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Consultant paints bleak picture for General Brown

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DEXTER — An increase in expenses and a decrease in revenues mean the General Brown Central School District may be broke by 2015.

During a presentation at the December meeting, financial consultant Richard G. Timbs told the seven-member Board of Education that if aggressive budget planning doesn’t start soon, the district will be in worse financial shape.

“Reserves are going away quickly,” he said, as he showed board members a scenario of continuing to borrow from such an account. “Hypothetically, what we have here is I keep appropriating more money out of reserves to balance the deficit. If I take $2.17 million away, you will have little or no reserves.”

Borrowing for operational expenses, he said, should be avoided.

Mr. Timbs, a consultant with Bernard P. Donegan Inc., Victor, and executive director of the Statewide School Finance Consortium, said one of his recommendations is to plan not just for the 2013-14 school district budget, but for the next three years in order to develop a more solid fiscal plan.

“Someone in this district will have to dedicate themselves to this task,” he said. “I’d suggest you have a series of budget workshops every other week until March. The current budget must be frozen.”

That also puts more pressure on the Board of Education to find and approve a permanent business administrator or manager so that interim business administrator Ronald K. Wilson may get back to his personal duties in Oswego County, where he lives.

In the meantime, Mr. Timbs has asked the business office to monitor expenditures.

“If I were superintendent, I’d cease and desist all unnecessary expenditures,” he said. “Things that are nice to have are no longer nice to have. They’re a luxury. If you didn’t buy it by Dec. 1, you don’t need them.”

The exceptions to that rule, he said, would be library books that have yet to come in and buses to rebuild the district’s fleet, which was ruined in an April fire at the bus garage.

“In the next 30 days, you need to decide that,” Mr. Timbs said of the bus purchase plan.

The fire ruined 20 of the district’s 23 buses. Since April, the district has leased buses from various companies. If all buses were purchased new, they’d cost $2 million, but the district has only about half of that from its insurance company.

Mr. Timbs recommended the board purchase buses, whether all new or new and used, versus a leasing option, or a combination of purchasing and leasing.

While he also recommended the district re-explore grade-centering, where grades kindergarten through 2 and then 3 through 6 might be in their own buildings, District Superintendent Stephan J. Vigliotti St. said transportation had been the stumbling block before when it was looked into.

“If there’s no savings, forget it,” Mr. Timbs said.

In his presentation, Mr. Timbs also discussed the state property tax cap, loss of state and federal aid, updating cash flow amount and monitoring appropriated fund balance projections and the New York State Teachers’ Retirement System and Employees Retirement System.

“When rates and salary go up, you get a double whammy,” Mr. Timbs said. “Using hyperboles, the only way to not have an increase in pension costs is to have no staff. You can have a 0 percent increase, but that’ll be closing the doors and turning off the lights.”

Mr. Timbs said it’s also important for the board to remember to keep the faith in the local community.

“It is their money; it is their children,” he said. “You should have an update at every board meeting people can see. Nothing communicates issues better than face-to-face.”

After his presentation, board member Cynthia L. Humerickhouse said the district isn’t “looking too bad this year,” but still has a lot of work to do.

“You painted a very bleak picture,” she said. “We’re already poor and we’re going to get a lot poorer.”

Once General Brown has economized, Mr. Timbs said, “it boils down to having anything you want — as long as you’re willing to pay for it.”

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