WCSD Budget: One More Mill

The Warren County School District’s budget for 2014-2015 is on the books.

And your property taxes are going up.

The board of directors unanimously approved the $69,028,743 spending package that includes a 1-mill increase in the property tax rate, during a special meeting held amid committee meetings on Monday night.

The vote occurred after press time for Tuesday’s edition of the Times Observer.

The school district administration presented the board with two options a budget with a 1-mill increase and another proposal that included a 2-mill increase.

During the board of directors’ Finance Committee meeting, Business Manager Jim Grosch provided an overview of the budget, identifying revenues at $68,017,747 with expenditures at $69,028,743.

That deficit was balanced via dipping into fund balance.

Grosch also updated the board on the district’s fund balance, indicating that information gained in just the past few days showed that fund-balance estimates came in at $3.2 million, approximately $1.4 million higher than previous estimates.

Delinquent real estate taxes came in $435,000 higher than expected, earned income tax at $200,000, unemployment at $250,000 and textbook spending and transportation savings of $200,000 each.

In light of the increase, the administration allocated additional fund balance to committee categories, adding approximately $500,000 into capital projects over proposed final budget, another $680,000 into the state retirement system, PSERS, and approximately $220,000 into technology and $150,000 into staffing contingency.

The district has now set aside more than $2 million for future retirement contributions.

“It’s a nice thing to have also an evil, not spending the money you are taxing us,” said Superintendent Dr. William Clark. He proposed quarterly assigned fund balance reports to show what is being spent.

“Basically, (we) have $1.4 million more in ending fund balance than we thought we did,” Board President Arthur Stewart said.

He criticized the administration for adding items back into assigned fund balance without the board’s knowledge between preliminary final budget a month ago and Monday.

“The board needs to talk about those things,” Stewart said.

“If we took all the extra money out of the designated fund balance that we put in for proposed preliminary,” board member Tom Knapp said, “we would end up with an extra million dollars in unassigned fund balance. We can cover anything we lack in this budget but just not adding the extra on there and there would be no tax increase.”

Board Vice President Donna Zariczny challenged that notion, indicating that the situation next year would be more challenging.

“I agree in part,” said Clark of Knapp’s assertion. “I would be concerned, once you give revenue up, you only get that opportunity to tax once. Once that opportunity is gone, it’s gone. I think if you did that (and) don’t set aside money for PSERS and some of the other things (there will be issues) down the road.”

“The board adopted the plan to set aside the dollars as outlined and to increase real estate taxes by one mill,” Stewart said in an email to the Times Observer on Tuesday. “That action reduces our projected ending fund balance to $3.2 million. That is a reduction in the ending fund balance of about $500,000 from the last fiscal year, meaning that we have taken some money from savings.

“However, with the set aside for PSERS we have a good plan in place to deal with the state retirement problem. Next year we should not have to set aside such a large amount for PSERS and, therefore, we will have likely removed the need to take additional money from the ending fund balance.”

“If we had not set aside that money, then we would not have had to dip into the ending fund balance” for this budget, he said. “If we hadn’t set aside the PSERS money, it would have been a balanced budget.”

Stewart said that the vote on the budget was unanimous.

“Board members expressed that we would have preferred a budget with zero tax increase,” he said. “However, given the significant expenditure cuts that are already reflected in the budget, and given the need to set aside (funds) for the state pension increases, there was no realistic means to hold to a zero increase. We are glad that there is reasonable means of holding it to one mill.”

In thanking the administration, Stewart said the board “is appreciative of administration’s care and that they didn’t present us with the ugly surprise of a shortfall. The administration’s response to the additional funds was to come forward with a purposeful recommendation to address future obligations.

“While no one is pleased with a tax increase I’m glad we move into next year with a reasonable amount in our ending fund balance and with money set aside for the retirement burden and the technology upgrades we have set as goals.”