JAMESTOWN – The Jamestown School Board is getting closer to approving the district’s $86.23 million budget for next school year.
During the board’s meeting on Tuesday night, school finance director Vern Connors walked the board through an updated budget presentation that was put together after the state finalized its school aid numbers for Jamestown.
According to Connors, Jamestown will see an increase of $1.2 million in aid over the current year’s budget, bringing total state aid to about $67.86 million for next year. That amounts to 78.7 percent of total revenue for the district. The district’s property tax levy of $14.64 million would cover another 18.9 percent of total revenue.
With an expected surplus from the current year, combined with additional aid for next year, Connors said the 2018-19 budget is intended to serve as a transitional budget for the district that will focus on long-term needs and liabilities, including reducing the district’s debt service and freeing up future moneys for program needs.
It also calls for restoring or establishing various funds, with that money being utilized for future anticipated and unanticipated expenses without having to rely on tax payer money to offset those costs.
The budget also calls for $1 million to be put toward immediate capitol improvement and infrastructure needs, along with the purchase of five new school buses without having to borrow.
The board has also agreed that it will focus on adjusting programming in the 2019-2020 budget and as a result, is only looking to add 14 positions for next year – with six of them being listed as contingency positions – ad a cost of an additional $530,000 over the current year’s budget.
Compared to the current year’s budget, the total spending for next year’s proposed budget would see an increase of $1,003,372 – an increase of 1.18 percent.
Board Members Discuss Tax Reduction
School board members Shelly Leathers and Patrick Slagle again lobbied for a slight 1 percent ($146,415.76) reduction in the property tax levy, saying that because the district now has some financial flexibility, it may be the time to provide relief to city property owners.
“This is a great budget and I can’t see why anyone would vote against this budget. We’re doing a lot of great things and we’re setting ourselves up to do some great things in the future,” Slagle said. “But I think that a 1 percent tax reduction is well within our means without sending things out of control… every year I’m always willing to say lets see what we can do to reduce the tax burden on our citizens.”
However, other board members, including Nina Karbacka, Christine Schnars, Dan Johnson, and Joe Pawelski all said that that the board has done a good job in holding the line on taxes – considering there’s only been one permanent increase during the past 10 years. They also said that some of the long-term financial planning the district is pursuing will help to continue holding the line on taxes.
“In deciding our budget goals, we talked about wanting to maintain a stable school tax levy and I am certainly, absolutely in support of that – that we don’t increase the tax levy and we don’t increase taxes for our tax payers. But we also said we want to improve student performance and we have things coming up in the future like the Success Academy that we want to promote, put money into it, and provide success avenues for our students…. I would be opposed to giving money back to the taxpayers and reducing the tax levy, instead of doing some of the things we could do to improve student achievement,” Schnars said.
“I think our first obligation is the student in our school system. Though we have kept our program stable, it does not acknowledge the fact that over the past ten years we have lost almost 100 positions,” Karbacka said, adding, “I think that keeping [the tax levy] where it is is very fiscally responsible. It’s been there for ten years. As our cost of living and expenses have going up over the past ten years, our taxes have remained the same. You could almost look at that as a tax reduction because everything else has gone up for everyone, except for our taxes.”
Board president Paul Abbott said he would be in favor of a slight tax cut as well, but added that he would support the budget with or without a tax reduction, so long as there was no tax increase.
“For the first time I think I’m prepared to also support the idea of a half percent or 1 percent decrease in the tax levy,” Abbott said.
Superintendent Bret Apthorpe said he appreciated the spirit of the tax cut discussion, but also reminded the board that it needs to be careful on how it proceeds.
“The work we’ve done does dignify long term planning. It does dignify the challenges our city has. It does dignify decreasing our debt service because our debt service is about 12 percent of our budget, and that’s too high. If we want to maintain long-term stability – and that means quality student programming and we keep the zeros on the tax levy moving head – the budget that we’ve worked on here has been trying to dignify all those things.”
Still, Apthorpe said he and his staff will work on a couple of different options to pursue in regards to the tax cut issue and bring details forward during the next school board meeting.
The board will see a final version of the budget – along with what impact a tax cut would have on future budgets – during next week’s board meeting on Tuesday, April 17. It will then vote on the final spending plan, which would then be put forward for a public vote in May.