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HOMER-CENTER: School directors project no tax increase

by CHAUNCEY ROSS on May 24, 2013 11:00 AM

CENTER TOWNSHIP — For the first time since 2003, real estate tax bills will remain the same for Homer-Center School District property owners. Tentatively.

The district’s board of school directors Thursday approved the proposed budget for 2013-14, a spending plan that counts on dipping into unspent money rather than relying on taxpayers to cover a $550,000 gap between revenues and expenses.

“This is a rather easy budget to vote on,” board President Vicki Smith said. It passed 8-0; board member Joy Sasala was absent.

The budget will be advertised for public review and comment, and be put up for final adoption by June 30.

The projected budget lists $15.3 million in expenses and $14.7 million in revenues, and calls for holding the 125.6 mill real estate tax.

Smith said the board could make changes before the budget is final.

“I’m also happy to say that we are still discussing some of the expenditures; they may come down,” Smith said. “We’re also going to be able to review some of the things that were taken out of the budget in the past. This entire board has worked hard; the teachers have sacrificed and helped us along the way. The community has been very supportive and I think we’ve done a good job balancing things and everyone should be proud of the work they’ve done.”

“Through the budget workshops, the board looked at every function and operation and made evaluations on the worth to the student,” district Superintendent Charles Koren said. “We wanted to focus on all services for students. … We still have to determine whether to include replacement of some of the furloughed positions from the past.”

Smith said the school district’s food service program, which came under close review as a money-losing operation just two years ago, now is turning a profit and is self-supporting.

Without specifically identifying them, Smith said other district programs that fell to the budget ax in 2010 may be reinstated.

“We had a cushion we were able to work with this year,” Smith said. “We’re actually going to try to restore, at least on a part-time basis, some of the programs that we had to eliminate when we first suffered the major setbacks that everybody did with the governor’s budget.”

District Business Manager Greg Cessna said the district expects to see increases in wage tax collections and state subsidies offsetting the retirement fund contribution, which helps avert the need for raising the tax.

The expense side of the budget also includes a line item that’s not expected to be spent, a “budgetary reserve” for emergencies.

“The budgetary reserve may and probably will not (be) needed for expenditures, but they are there for unforeseen items that may come up,” Cessna said. “Even though expenditures exceed revenues, we have to budget for unexpected items. You plan for the worst and hope for the best, and in most cases you don’t have them.”

In other business, the board:

• Named Rhonda Clifford to serve as board secretary for a four-year term from July 1 to June 30, 2017, at an annual salary starting at $2,000.

• Approved routine lists of bills to be paid, financial reports, staff travel and student field trip requests.

• Approved a list of 66 seniors who qualified to graduate on June 4.

• Renewed agreements with Adelphoi Village for alternative education for disruptive youths for 2013-14 and with Alternative Community Resource Program for similar services for 2013-15.

• Reached the second phase of a “lease-to-purchase” agreement with Xerox for a photocopier. After five years of monthly payments, the district has purchased the machine for $431 and approved a 12-month maintenance agreement, the amount based on metered usage.

• Approved an electricity supply agreement with First Energy Solutions, setting the district’s power usage rate at 6.27 cents per kilowatt-hour from June 2015 to December 2017.

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