ALBANY — The 2016-17 New York State budget passed this week contains measures which will help Oswego County schools and possibly provide relief for taxing jurisdictions affected by the closing of the James A. FitzPatrick Nuclear Plant.
The $156 billion spending and revenue plan approved by lawmakers in the assembly and state senate was the result of a lengthy late-night session Thursday, keeping legislators at their desks until well after midnight.
Many details of the overarching document had already been agreed upon but controversial proposals such as an increased minimum wage and paid family leave were the subject of contentious debate and eleventh-hour Capitol maneuvering.
Of particular interest to Oswego County residents is the $24.6 billion education funding portion of the budget, a $1.5 billion increase over the 2015-2016 budget.
Education advocates and local lawmakers had said they hoped to see more school funding included in the final budget, and the deal will add an extra $900 million to what Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed in his January budget address.
The Fulton City School District is also looking at a significant increase in state aid, receiving 13 percent more than it did last year. The district is slated to receive a total of $46,334,718 in state funds for 2016-17— $5,354,756 more than it did in 2015-16.
Fulton is also benefiting from the end of the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA) — a measure that was enacted in 2010-11 to help the state close its own budget gap by taking back from districts a certain portion of their state aid. In the Fulton City School District, alone, the GEA had cost the district more than $10 million in aid between 2010 and 2015.
The Oswego City School District, which currently faces a challenging and "painful" budget process due to falling revenue, increased costs and lack of available reserve funds, will see $2.6 million, or 12.4 percent, in increased state funding this year compared to last year.
Superintendent Dean Goewey will present the district's latest budget proposal this upcoming Tuesday at a board of education meeting. Oswego's final GEA payment will be slightly more than $21,000, which Goewey said was "disappointing" as the only district in the county with that charge still on the books.
"We were really eager to see the increase from the Governor's budget to the legislative budget and for us it was about $1.1 million," said Goewey, who noted that while overall aid has increased, several targeted aid lines such as transportation had been decreased netting the district roughly $500,000." Goewey said the board of education would be meeting next week to decide how those funds would augment the budget proposal but "at least a portion, if not all" would be put back into reserves as the district will face another $4 million budget shortfall next year.
The budget also contains a measure to help support communities that will see negative economic impacts from the closure of local power plants.
For the first time, a $30 million fund will be available to nuclear power communities on a "first-come, first-serve" basis to alleviate the loss of payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreements.
Assemblyman Will Barclay, R-Pulaski, said he had inquired with state officials whether or not the $30 million would cover nuclear communities — such as Oswego County, the Town of Scriba and the Mexico Academy and Central School District — and was assured it was "intended for FitzPatrick to be covered" but it was "unclear" if those funds would be able to cover the full amount of the funds lost by a possible FitzPatrick closure.
County administrator Phil Church said he was also aware of the $30 million in possibly available funds and it was his "understanding that may be something we can access" but details on eligibility, restrictions or the total amount available had not yet been communicated to his office.