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School board approves budgets

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Millage offset keeps tax increase low; tax decreases for some

By Reece Murphy

Lancaster County School District board members unanimously approved the county school district’s fiscal year 2013-14 general fund and debt services budgets Tuesday, June 25.

As anticipated during last month’s budget proposal process, offsetting changes in millage for the two independent budgets resulted in a 1-mill increase in total millage for county taxpayers.

Totaling $94.6 million, the budgets include a $79.7 million general fund to pay for day-to-day operations and $14.9 million to cover debt services on capital projects.

The final budget came in at nearly $800,000 less than proposed last month, balanced with $2.4 million in equity, or money from the district’s savings.

“Remember last month we came in over (budget) by $1,534,202?” Walker said. “This brings it into balance.”

For residents facing tax increases approved by Lancaster County and city of Lancaster councils of 4.7 and 5 mills, respectively, this year’s school board millage increase comes as somewhat of a relief.

With a loss of revenue resulting from a 1.48 percent drop in the county’s mill value this year and other factors, the school board agreed to the district’s request to raise general fund, or operating, millage this year by 5 mills, from 140 to 145 mills.

The increase will result in an additional $672,290 in revenue for district operations.

As it relates to taxpayers, however, the majority of the increase in operating millage is offset by a 4-mill decrease in debt services millage, from 47 to 43 mills. The decrease is a result of bond refinancing and cost savings on the new Indian Land elementary school.

“Debt services millage taxes everybody; general operating millage is just on businesses and personal property,” Walker said after the meeting in explaining the offset. “So really, there’s a net increase of only 1 mill.

“Residential property, homeowners, because they’re not impacted (by operating millage), will get the benefit of the 4 mill decrease on debt services,” he said.

With the value of a mill on residential property figured at 4 percent, or $4 per mill, homeowners will see a decrease of $16 per $100,000 valuation on their homes.

The 1-mill increase in operating millage amounts to approximately $6 per $100,000 valuation on business property and $1.80 on a $30,000 vehicle.

Teacher raises

For the second year in a row, the district included two step increases in the general fund for district educators.

Though the state did not require districts to give teachers step increases this year as it did in 2012-13, the school district decided to include one in part to prevent loss of talent by keeping wages in line with surrounding school districts.

Top-tier educators, or those who have reached the maximum pay scale, will not receive that step-increase.

The second step increase is one the district owes qualified educators for service earned in the 2010-11 school year when the increases were frozen due to budgetary belt tightening.

“We only have to give one, but with these we will be caught up this year,” said Lancaster County School District Superintendent Dr. Gene Moore, of the salary increases.

Also included in the general fund budget are other salary increases drawn from special state and federal revenue sources specifically intended for that purpose.

The funding will, in part, help the district cover new positions, including new teachers, support staff, and a full-time nurse.

Budget overview

Walker said this year’s budget was figured using a base per-student cost of $2,101.

While that is an $89 increase over last year’s amount, it is still far short of the approximately $2,700 per-student amount the district would receive had the state provided consistent funding over the years in keeping with state law.

Still, the district is funding school allocations at 100 percent with an increase in the allocation formula that will provide an additional $112,211.

This year’s budget includes a 5.15 percent increase in overall expenditures, $3.9 million more than last year.

As always, salaries and fringe benefits make up the majority of those expenditures, which this year amount to approximately 85.31 percent of the district’s operating budget.

Among those expenditures is a 5 percent increase in the average cost of employee health insurance estimated at $5,486 per employee.

Other expenditures include a 15.47 percent rise in cost of the district’s cleaning contract, amounting to nearly $300,000; a 5.8 percent increase in property insurance amounting to $23,760; and a $57,105 increase in communications costs.

Included in the district’s debt services budget is funding for $1.8 million in school improvements as part of the district’s five-year capital plan.

The improvements include upgrades to heating and cooling systems, installation of energy management systems, and new lighting, ceilings and lockers, among others.

Also among the items included in the capital needs budget is $1.3 million for new technology and $600,000 for building security, transportation and safety.

Reaction

After the meeting, school board Chairman Bobby Parker said he and other board members were satisfied with the final budget, especially with the fact that it was balanced with a minimal tax increase and a break for homeowners.

“Any time you can save money for the taxpayers, that’s a good thing,” Parker said. “And that’s all because we’ve got good people.

“We are fiduciaries, and as such we have to keep close tabs on the public’s money,” he said. “So anytime we can roll back taxes, we do.”

 

Contact reporter Reece Murphy at (803) 283-1151