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$10,000 shaved from Palmerton School budget

Published March 02. 2011 05:16PM

About $10,000 has been shaved off Palmerton Area School District's preliminary budget, still not enough to stave off an anticipated 12.6-percent increase next year.

Part-time interim acting business manager Donna Les told the school board at a committee workshop on Tuesday that she went over the 2011-12 preliminary budget line-by-line to make a few adjustments.

Les said the cuts would reduce the 2011-12 proposed spending plan from $27,388,817 to $27,378,655 due to medical insurance budgeted costs ($244,116); an athletic fund transfer ($133,545); and an increase in the IU Special Education Contract ($130,086).

Other areas that were affected were a new technology position ($67,018); add impact of support staff contract ($58,918) cut new part-time secretary ($27,387); and cut facilities vehicle ($21,700).

"It only reduced the budget $10,000," Les said. "It still pretty much stands at a little over a 5-mill increase, or a 12.6-percent increase."

As required by Act 1 of 2006, the board intends to seek approval from the Pennsylvania Department of Education, or the Carbon County Court, for all referendum exceptions for which the district qualifies.

Les told the committee there were several referendum exceptions the district qualified for: special education, retirement contributions, and maintenance of local revenues.

"If you choose, you could fund your preliminary budget as it stands," she said. "If you leave it as is, you don't need to make any program cuts."

In the event the board were to adopt next year's budget with a 5.5-mill increase as currently presented, Les said that would mean no program cuts would be required.

Should the board approve a budget with a 5-mill increase, that would require program cuts of $144,304; a 4-mill increase, $429,489; a 3-mill increase, $714,674; a 2-mill increase, $999,589; and a 1-mill increase, $1,285,044, she said.

Afterward, Les told the committee she needed some direction from them.

"I'm at a standstill," she said. "There's nothing more I can do with your budget."

Superintendent Carol Boyce suggested the board's Budget and Finance Committee meet with the district's administrative team within the next few weeks.

"I think it would be a worthwhile opportunity for the budget committee to meet with our administrative team to offer some thoughts," Boyce said. "That way, everybody's here together talking about what it is."

Boyce said the meeting - whereby a date and time has yet to be established - would be open to the public. But, she said it would be in the district's best interests if the brunt of the dialogue was between the board and administrators.

"I think it's critical," she said. "We understand the public impact."

Boyce then praised Les, whom she said "has been an absolute godsend throughout this entire process."

Les told the committee it needs to let her know "what tax increase you can live with."

Director Carl Bieling said he believes part of the decision for next year's budget needs to take into account the next two years.

Board President Barry Scherer acknowledged that the process won't get any easier.

"We certainly have our work cut out for us," Scherer said. "But there is light at the end of the tunnel."

Last month, the board, on a 5-4 vote, agreed to adopt the $27,388,661 preliminary budget that calls for a 12.6-percent, or 5.5-mill increase that would raise the millage rate from 43.64 to 49.14 mills.

That would mean a person with a home valued at $100,000 and assessed at $50,000 would pay $2,455, or about $275 more in property taxes to the district next year.

In January, Les reworked next year's spending plan in order to avoid an additional 2.72-mill increase on top of a 3.56-mill, or 8.15 percent, increase in the 2011-12 preliminary budget the board agreed to advertise for adoption in January.

Otherwise, that would have increased the millage rate from 43.64 to 47.20 mills, which would have meant a person with a home valued at $100,000 and assessed at $50,000 would have paid $2,360, or about $180 more in property taxes next year.

Les told the board at that time that of the $1.7 million the district had in its fund balance, only $730,000 remains after the other $923,000 was used to balance the current year's budget.

The amount of money the district budgeted for its share of the 2011-12 Carbon Career & Technical Institute budget was understated by about $351,060, Les said at that time. Also, the loss of $426,051 in federal program money would have required an additional 2.72-mill increase in the district's 2011-12 preliminary budget, she said.

Les said revisions to next year's preliminary budget increased expenditures $555,498, from $26.8 million to $27.3 million, which represents a 1.95-mill increase over the initial preliminary budget.

Boyce acknowledged at that time that a reconciliation of billing showed that the district has "been significantly under budgeting for the last several years." Les said the reconciliation was completed in November.

However, Les cautioned that the preliminary budget is only a rough draft, and therefore could be modified between now and final adoption due by June 30.

Boyce said at that time she and Les "will be talking with every building administrator" in an effort to re-evaluate their respective spending plans.

In December, the committee met with each of the district's department heads as part of a pair of meetings in its attempt to craft next year's spending plan.

This year, homeowners saw a 3.9 percent, or 1.64-mill increase, in their property tax rates after the board in June approved the 2010-11 budget on a 5-4 vote that raised the millage rate from 42 to 43.64 mills.

That meant a person with a home valued at $100,000, which was assessed at $50,000, paid $2,182 in property taxes to the district, $82 more than the $2,100 rate they paid in 2009-10 when the board passed a budget with a 2.44 percent, or 1 mill, increase that resulted in a $50 increase for residents with the same home value.

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