Despite the many unknowns, Palmerton Area School District has an exact timetable for which it must act on next year's budget.
That knowledge came after business Manager Diane Serfass reviewed the 2013-14 budget process with the school board on Tuesday.
Serfass said the Pennsylvania Department of Education has requested that the preliminary proposed budget is due to the state by Jan. 31, 2013; the proposed budget, Feb. 20; the proposed final budget, May 29; and final budget adoption, June 28.
At its Jan. 8 workshop, Serfass said the board will review revenues and expenditures for 2013-14, and discuss millage increases or a resolution to stay below the index.
By Jan. 22, she said the board must adopt its proposed preliminary budget; and by Jan. 31, the board must either make its proposed preliminary budget available for public inspection, or adopt a resolution indicating that it will not raise taxes above the index.
On March 7, Serfass said PDE will inform the district whether their proposed tax rate increase is less than, or equal to, the index, at which time the district must seek PDE approval for exceptions.
She said that on May 14, a public presentation of the proposed final budget will be given in the high school auditorium. June 18 would then be the target date to adopt the final budget, Serfass said.
The index, Serfass said, is intended to limit tax increases to a cost of living index. The 2013-14 base index is 1.7 percent, said Serfass, who added the district's has been adjusted to 2.3 percent based on the district's wealth.
Serfass noted that since the district's current millage is 51.444 mills, and the index is 2.3 percent, the most millage could increase without an approved exception or approved referendum is 1.18 mills.
Therefore, the board's options, Serfass said, are as follows: adopt a resolution to not exceed the index; adopt a resolution to apply for exceptions, plus its 2.3 index increase in millage; or referendum to voters to go above the index, plus exceptions.
Exceptions the board used in the 2012-13 budget pertained to various items that dealt with construction and debt service; special education costs; the Pennsylvania Public School Employees' Retirement System (PSERS) increase; and a total millage increase of 1.17 mills, Serfass said.
Data she said the board does have available for the 2013-14 preliminary budget development is that as of Dec. 6, PSERS certified the retirement rate of 16.93 percent for the 2013-14 budget; the 2012-13 rate was certified at 12.36 percent, for an increase of 4.57 percent. By 2018, the rate is expected to be 26.09 by today's projections, Serfass said.
Also, Serfass said the Carbon Career and Technical Institute's preliminary budget is $2,227,280, which represents an increase of $39,611, or 1.8 percent over the 2012-13 budget. In addition, she said the district's debt service payment is $257,867, or an increase of $349 over the 2012-13 budget.
Lastly, the Lehigh Carbon Community College preliminary budget is $220,044, or an increase of $2,455, or 1.1 percent, over the 2012-13 budget, she said.
Unknown data at this time includes certified real estate tax assessment expected by Dec. 31; increase, if any, in health care premiums expected Dec. 18; information on catastrophic claims; teacher contract still in negotiations; federal funding of the Title programs; major funding cuts with Access medical billings; cuts in Special Education reimbursement due to sequestration; and what the enrollment numbers will be in charter schools, Serfass said.
Her recommendation to the board is that it allow for contingencies; consider a budgetary reserve; and maintain a healthy fund balance.
Serfass said the budgeting process under Act 1 is a "lengthy, cumbersome process."
In June, the board adopted the 2012-13 spending plan, which called for a 4.68-percent, or 2.30-mill increase, in the property tax rate.
The $27,267,701 budget raised the millage rate from 49.14 to 51.44 mills, which means a person with a home valued at $100,000, and assessed at $50,000, had to pay $2,572, or $115 more, in property taxes to the district.
As part of that approval, the board authorized $179,700 of the 2012-13 committed fund balance to be allocated to the payment of the district's 2013-14 Pennsylvania School Employees Retirement System obligation.
The spending plan also calls for the use of $272,486 from the fund balance to pay for the 2011-12 positions that were restored.
Also as part of that budget, the board rejected the transfer of $44,945 from the Special Athletic Account to general fund to reimburse the expense of the wrestling, cross country, golf and tennis programs for the 2011-12 fiscal year as per the board resolution dated June 7, 2011.
In addition, the board rejected a motion to utilize the following formula to allocate the donation of $46,351 from the Save Our Sports group prior to June 30, 2012; 2011-2012 total athletic expenditures less 2011-2012 gate receipts less 2011-2012 budgeted local revenue equals the amount of the donation to be utilized to fund the total 2011-2012 athletic program. Any remaining donated funds shall be used in the same manner in subsequent years.
Afterward, the board approved to authorize the transfer of $32,471 from the Special Athletic Account to General Fund to fund a portion of the 2011-2012 athletic program. The remaining SOS allocation were to have been placed in a separate account.