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NL proposed budget has 5.12% hike

While it isn’t likely to stick, Northern Lehigh School District has opted for a 5.12% increase for the 2024-2025 school year.

However, school directors said residents aren’t expected to see that big of a property tax increase come final budget adoption next month.

On a 6-0 showing, the school board on Monday adopted the proposed final budget of $39,756,355 for 2024-2025. Directors Gary Fedorcha, Chad Christman and Natalie Snyder were absent.

That calls for a millage rate of 26.1503 in Lehigh County, and a millage rate of 77.9804 in Northampton County.

Sherri Molitoris, district business manager, said the district anticipates its fund balance to end as of June 30 roughly at $16.671 million at the end of the 2023-2024 school year.

Molitoris said expenses are currently $39,756,355, while revenues without fund balance use is $38,714,426. She said one-time purchases are $420,000 in additional revenues that would be taken out of fund balance, leaving the district with a budget shortfall of $621,929.

She said the one-time purchases allocated for items for the 2024-2025 school year, are things like the technology upgrades, feasibility study, $200,000 worth of bond payments, and the district’s language arts program (most of that program they are recommending would be paid for out of the district’s relief grants).

However, Molitoris said they are going to have probably a shortfall of about $45,000 that would come out of the general fund. And in committed fund balance, she said the district also has for pension upgrades, which was roughly $45,000 for the 2024-2025 school year.

If the board decides to use the $420,000 out of fund balance for those one-time purchases, Molitoris said the district’s estimated ending fund balance at the end of the 2024-2025 school year would be $16,251,542. If the board would so choose to take everything out of fund balance, including that $621,929 shortfall, she said it would be looking at an ending fund balance of $15,629,613 estimated in its fund balance.

Molitoris said if the district raises it to 5.12%, that would give it everything it is short in its budget right now, which is the $1,041,906.

Lehigh County residents would pay $121 more, said Molitoris, while Northampton County residents would pay $212.

Superintendent Dr. Matthew J. Link said administrative recommendations include utilization of fund balance for one-time purchases and pension increases; consider a tax increase in conjunction with utilization of fund balance to close the gap in addition to generating some revenue for upcoming years for possible construction or renovation projects; continue to look for grant revenue opportunities to fund positions such as school police officer and social worker; and continue to search for expenditure savings.

Percentage increase

Before the vote, Director Donna Kulp noted the board had talked about a dishwasher for the kitchen at the high school.

Kulp said she would like to see if the board could take care of the Food Services Department purchases, such as the dishwasher and the steamer.

Link noted that the Food Services Department budget is a separate budget from the general operating budget.

He then recommended taking the overage in the cafeteria fund balance, with the rest coming from the general operating fund.

A cost estimate came in at $77,000. Molitoris said there is $64,000, which would leave about $13,000 to come from out of general fund to supplement the purchase of a dishwasher. That would not count the steamer.

Kulp said she was just hoping they could include something in the proposed budget to cover that.

“Why keep paying for repairs when it’s not worth it,” Kulp said. “That’s where I’m coming from.”

Afterward, Director Gale Husack made the motion for a 5.12% increase, which was seconded by Kulp.

Husack was quick to point out that when the board votes on the final budget in June, “it will likely not be that.”

“You can always go lower, and that’s the goal is to go lower; once we set it tonight, we can’t go higher,” Husack said. “And we don’t want to go higher than that, but we want to set something that still allows administration to do final tweaks on the budget, look at final things, give it one more month to be reviewed and looked at, put dishwashers in if we need to.

“I won’t agree to it in June, but I can agree to 5.12 today.”

Kulp said she agreed with Husack.

“I will not agree to that in June,” Kulp said. “But if you want to just put a placeholder in there, I’m OK with that knowing there is still going to be work done.”

Board President Mathias Green state law requires the board to approve a preliminary budget and approve a final budget, and the budget needs to be on display for 20 days for the public, and the district needs a minimum amount of 30 days before it can approve the final budget.

“This is an oddball year the way the dates have come up, and if we do this at our second June meeting, we’re only at 28 days so we can’t do that,” Green said.

As a result, Green then called for a special meeting at 5:30 p.m. June 24 to approve the final budget.

Last June, the school board approved a 3.5% increase in the property tax rates.