Gov. David Paterson's plan to preserve the state's cash flow by delaying December aid payments to schools by 10 percent has led one local school district to implement a spending freeze.
"Anything that's not critical to school operations, safety or programs is not going to be approved," Tupper Lake Central School District Superintendent Seth McGowan said.
Tupper Lake school officials were due to get a payment of $613,546 on Dec. 15. Instead, the district will receive $552,191, or $61,355 less, according to figures provided by the state Budget Division.
McGowan said he decided to freeze unnecessary spending earlier this week, after the governor promised he would be reducing aid to schools but before the specifics were released.
"It seemed imminent," he said. "I felt there was enough reason to know something was on the horizon and that freezing spending would protect us."
A delay in state aid is better than a cut, McGowan said, but there's no way to know if Paterson will eventually pay the money the district is due.
"The delay is annoying, and it just means we'll have to watch spending carefully," McGowan said.
Other area school districts will see delays in their state aid payments, but not as much as Tupper Lake.
The December payment to the Saranac Lake Central School District was supposed to be $550,395. Now, $55,039 of that payment is being delayed, so the district will see $495,355 this month.
District Business Executive Mike Kilroy said the delay, even if it ends up being a cut, won't have much impact on the district. He thinks schools should share some of the burden for the state's budget troubles.
"There's no reason that school districts should be held harmless from this situation," he said. "We're part of the problem. I just can't imagine that any school district can't find the money."
Saranac Lake school officials haven't implemented a spending freeze, although Kilroy said the district is keeping a close watch on purchasing.
Elsewhere, a total of $15,788 in state aid to the Lake Placid Central School District is being delayed. School officials will collect $142,094 instead of $157,883.
Interim Lake Placid Superintendent Ernie Witkowski implemented a freeze on unnecessary spending last week, although that decision was based largely on the $860,000 property tax refund the district agreed to issue to settle an assessment challenge brought by the Whiteface Lodge.
The Keene Central School District will get a December aid payment of $38,971 instead of $43,301, a difference of $4,330.
In addition to schools, the governor is delaying reimbursements the state provides to counties for human services costs: $124,000 is being withheld from Essex County while $189,000 is being withheld from Franklin County.
Franklin County Manager Jim Feeley said the state is withholding money they would use to cover the cost of child welfare services.
"In essence, what the state is doing is making localities their personal bank," Feeley said. "It's unfair, after we've delivered the service, to be told that there will be an inordinate delay in reimbursement.
"If the state wants to cut our programs and have us deliver less services, we'll contend with that. But don't have us deliver services in the first instance and then delay or cut our reimbursement."
Paterson is also withholding 10 percent of December payments from the Aid and Incentives to Municipalities program, but the only municipality affected in the area is Plattsburgh, which will see about $263,000 in aid delayed.
Paterson said earlier this week that his decision to delay scheduled expenditures by 10 percent will give the state $750 million to address a severe cash shortage and help keep the current-year budget in balance.
Paterson is also planning to reduce January's scheduled payments for STAR (school tax relief), human services and state employee fringe benefits by 19 percent.
State Sen. Betty Little said the aid delays will be difficult for some school districts and municipalities to deal with.
"There's a definite impact," she said. "But everybody has to understand by now that we have to cut spending at every single level."
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