UNITED: Tentative school budget calls for 8 mill tax increase
May 22, 2013 10:40 AM

ARMAGH — The United School District Board of Directors adopted a tentative budget for 2013-14 that calls for an 8 mill increase in property taxes but is still looking at ways to make reductions before a final budget is passed in June.

The board voted 5-2 on Tuesday to adopt the proposed final budget, with board members John Poorbaugh and Robert Lichtenfels voting against it. Board members Robert Dill and Sandra Mack were absent.

The proposed final budget calls for $18,393,869 in revenue and $20,380,945 in expenditures, increasing the millage rate to 104.35 from 96.35. The 8 mill increase is what’s allowed with the approved exceptions for special-education and retirement contributions that the district applied for at the beginning of the year in order to raise taxes above its index of 2.5 percent. Board President Don Davis said the 8 mills is down from the 11 mills, the highest the board could have gone, that the board had set as a potential for its preliminary budget.

The board also will borrow $1,987,076 from the district’s fund balance, Davis said after the meeting Tuesday, leaving it with a balance “as of right now” of roughly $4.5 million. He said that figure is preliminary because “we don’t have the final numbers on what’s left from this school year.”

Davis said the average assessed value for homeowners would be $98.12. He cited as an example that a house with a market value of $100,000 would have an increase of about $137.20.

Davis said the board will hold another budget meeting in the coming weeks before adopting a final budget.

“One of the reasons that we want to do that is that there’s still some things we’re looking at that we could make some reductions,” he said. The board had to adopt the proposed final budget Tuesday, he said, “and we can always go lower than (8 mills), but we cannot go higher than that.”

“When we did this proposed budget, we probably did it a little bit high knowing that we are able to have some wiggle room to go down,” Davis said.

He said he wants to make sure for the final budget meeting that everyone on the board can “give me a night where you can give me two to three hours where we can really argue this out and get a good, final number, and hopefully that number will go down.” The board was in executive session for personnel reasons for about an hour and a half Tuesday before voting on the proposed budget.

Davis couldn’t elaborate on what types of cuts the board made to get down to the 8 mills, as most of them were done in executive sessions, including Tuesday’s, where board members were “in there arguing for quite awhile.”

“People are very passionate about both what we want to do for our students as well as what we want to do for our taxpayers, and it’s a delicate balance,” he said.

“I don’t think that we want to do anything that’s going to increase class sizes and be detrimental to our students,” he added.

Davis did say that there has been some attrition, and the board also has decided not to fill a custodial position that has been vacant for almost a year.

He said the “worst-case scenario” is the 8 mill increase.

“The best case is that we could go down a little bit lower than that,” he said, adding that he thinks it could be done without furloughs and that there are other areas with room to make cuts, but he did not elaborate so as to not upset “any progress that we’ve made on that.”

Superintendent Barbara Parkins said there was a slight increase to the technology budget, looking at “possibly upgrading some of the equipment” in the high school “because it would be necessary to meet industry standards for the (computer-assisted drawing) lab specifically.” That’s one area where the board knows it’s going to be making some changes, she said.

Parkins said they’d be able to use the current computers from that lab in other places, either in the high school or elementary. The computers are fully operational, she said. They just “don’t have the capability of what’s needed for the computer-assisted drawing.”

She said the principals’, education director’s and strategic plan budgets are maintained at “an even level or less,” and that there were some cuts that administrators were asked to make. She said with special education, “even with those two additional classrooms,” the cost was cut by about $8,000.

“Overall, they’ve either maintained last year’s budget or decreased it,” Parkins said.

The proposed final budget will be advertised for 30 days. The deadline for a final budget to be adopted is June 30.

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