Budget Wrangling

While the final budget deadline for the Warren County School District is still several months away, talks on the budget will continue.

The school district’s board of directors approved a state-mandated proposed preliminary budget last month and the board’s Finance Committee on Monday approved the preliminary budget, which the whole board will adopt next month.

Once that is adopted, it might sound quiet on the budget front, but it won’t be.

“There are going to be many meetings, whether at committee or board where we are discussing the budget in general,” Director of Business Services Jim Grosch said during the Finance Committee meeting Monday.

He explained that, after consulting with Finance Committee Chair Mary Anne Paris and Superintendent Dr. William Clark, the budget process will likely be “a similar format as last year (as we) work with members to discuss options the board would vote on.”

Looking to final passage, Grosch said that a special meeting will be required to approve the budget in June as the board’s meeting schedule will not fit the budget timeline.

A timeline was provided to the committee that lays out the key steps between now and final budget passage.

“This is really just given to you as a snapshot of the overall timeline,” he said.

After the preliminary budget is approved, the next step is having a legal notice published announcing that the district “intends to apply for referendum exceptions.” The state permits exceptions, increasing taxes above the state-permitted index, to cover items such as retirement contributions.

Grosch said February committee meetings will then be used to discuss the governor’s budget, at which point the district “might have a little better flavor at the timeline at committees of how the process can be expedited.”

“Are you going to want significant board input before” the preliminary budget approval, Board President Arthur Stewart asked, citing concerns about state-retirement contributions and the district’s aging technological infrastructure. “When would you like us to be focusing on goals and seeing how our goals intersect with any discretionary decisions we would be able to make?”

Clark said the administration is “open to those suggestions at any time” but cautioned that the district needs “firmer numbers to tell if we are still in crisis mode.”

Of the preliminary budget that the board will be asked to approve in February, Grosch said that the proposal shows a four percent tax increase, even though the state index only permits the district to raise taxes without referendum by three percent. Grosch said that was included “to allow us to put in for exceptions so we have that opportunity or option down the road. This in no manner or in way means that you have to increase (taxes) four percent.”