JAMESTOWN – The Jamestown School Board has unanimously approved an $86.23 million budget for next year that includes no tax increase. Compared to the current year’s budget, the total spending for the 2018-19 budget would see an increase of just over $1 million – an increase of 1.18 percent.
During Tuesday’s meeting the board voted on the 2018-19 school budget, following a final budget presentation by school finance director Vern Connors, along with additional remarks by School Superintendent Bret Apthorpe.
According to Apthorpe, the budget is intended to bring the district financial stability by replenishing or establishing several funds, as well provide long term stability by reducing the districts debt service, all while maintaining the current level of programing.
“We’re preserving program. Jamestown has lost over 100 position in the last ten years, so we have 14 positions in this budget. We’ve also introduced a number of fiscal tools that are unique, its the fist time we’re using them purposely to lower our debt service and get more aid on our dollars spent,” Apthorpe said.
Prior to the board vote on the budget, Apthorpe wanted to clarify that while the district did have options on how to utilize surplus money from the current school year, it also needed to apply the money in a fiscally responsible way by addressing what he calls “The Big Ugly.”
“The ‘big ugly’ for Jamestown Schools is 12 percent of its budget goes toward paying for debt,” Apthorpe said. “As a result our credit rating isn’t so good, which means it costs us more money to borrow. That debt doesn’t go away. So if our state aid is decreased we still have to pay that loan. We still have to pay that debt. So in order to do that we would have to either raise taxes or cut programing.”
Apthorpe also pointed out that Jamestown and other districts across the state received generous state aid totals for this year, but added that historically that has been the case during a gubernatorial election year. However, he noted that in the year following an election year, education aid increases are significantly lower and the district needs to prepare for that now by being fiscally responsible and not adding new debt to an already bloated debt service.
By using some of this year’s surplus to address both immediate and upcoming building and infrastructure needs, the district will save over $1.13 million by avoiding borrowing fees and interest payments if it pays for the work now, rather than borrow and pay later.
All school board members that commented agreed that they were pleased with the final spending plan and its focus, including school board president Paul Abbott.
“I think this budget represents a consensus which is consistent with what everyone in this room cares about – our students, our programs, and improving things overall. I think this will help us address some of our debt service and I’m glad that we are on a track now that is looking toward future budgets instead of just the one-year solution or plan,” Abbott said.
Last week there had been discussion about a slight reduction to the property tax levy, but there was no further mention of that matter during last night’s meeting, prior to the vote. The tax levy for next school year will be $14.64 million dollars – where it has basically remained since the 2010-11 school year.
Another component of the budget is the establishment of a capital reserve fund of up to $2 million, which would require approval by district voters via a referendum. If that is approved, $2 million from this year’s surplus would be place in a fund and then applied to future capital projects. Because the state could fund up to 98 percent of the projects, the fund would allow the school to pay the local share of a future capital improvement plan up to $100 million without having to borrow or build that cost into future budgets.
Residents who want to learn more about the budget can attend a public hearing scheduled for Tuesday, May 8. The school election and budget vote will take place on May 15.
More details about the budget can also be found, or will soon be posted, at the District Website’s Budget Page.