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No-tax-hike budget OK’d by Ephrata
There was good news for property owners within the Ephrata Area School District Monday night as the school board passed its new budget without a tax increase.
District officials said this was due largely to an infusion of funds from the district’s reserve fund to the tune of $927,852. That maintains the district’s millage rate at 19.6 mills.
“The District’s average assessment home is 138,927 which would be (a tax bill of) $2,723,” said district business manager Kristee Reichard. “A $150,000 home would be $2,940.”
As District Superintendent Dr. Brian Troop pointed out, the cost of educating local youth actually went up by approximately 3 percent over last year. Projecting costs equaling $59,792,040 against revenue of $58,864,188, both Troop and Reichard were on hand to explain the new budget and answer board member questions.
Unlike years when the board is proposing a tax increase, the meeting room was virtually empty of taxpayers, save for two who regularly attend meetings.
Ephrata is not alone in facing the biggest challenge to a balanced budget &tstr; PSERs or the Public School Employee Retirement System. The district is in the midst of several years of significant state-mandated increases in the level of district contribution to the pension plan. As was the case last year, again for 2014-15, 2015-2016 and 2016-2017, the district will see an additional $1.2M increase stacked upon the previous year’s increase of the same size.
Reichard reminded board members that over the course of the past four budgets from 2009-2010 to 2013-2014, the district has had to find ways of funding an overall increase of $3.9M.
“The big question is whether there will be pension reform at the state level,” posited board president Tim Stayer, who said he had heard concerns that the state pension system may even be under-funded to cover current obligations.
Also presented at the meeting as a means of projecting budget conditions over the next four years was a chart which projected possible tax increases of up to the state limit of 2 percent.
But Troop was adamant in stressing that this was simply for forecasting and planning purposes and did not mean that 2 percent tax increases over that period were a foregone conclusion. Quite the contrary.
“Where it says projections to 2019, this is just one of the tools we use for exploring possible futures, said Troop. “It does not project actual tax increases. For planning, we look at what may be possible at a rounded 2 percent. This is just one of the commonly-used scenarios.”
Another challenge to a balanced budget the district will need to grapple with over the next several years is the cost of increasing enrollment.
“We have been staffing at a minimum,” said Troop. “But as enrollment goes up, now some previously unfilled openings will need to be filled.”
Stayer added that with projections being what they are, there is the potential for erosion of the school’s fund balance. As was the case last year when the board adopted a budget which featured both a modest tax increase and a contribution from the fund balance, this type of budgeting may be a necessity for several more years. But as Troop pointed out, the district is in good financial shape overall thanks to the sound leadership of previous school boards and the former district superintendent, Dr. Gerald Rosati.
In other district news, the board voted to reject all bids for proposed renovations to the stages in both the high school and middle school since all came in too high. In so doing, the board also agreed to table those renovations for an extra year. They did, however vote to approve a bid from Clair Brothers Audio Systems, Inc. for $150,627 for improvements to the audio-visual system at the middle school.
Troop indicated that amount may need to be increased slightly with the overall stage project on hold due to electrical improvements which may be needed. However, he also said those increases would remain rather small.
And finally, with the final hurdle cleared last week by the Ephrata Borough Council, Troop said the way was now clear for construction on the new turf field and renovation project at the Ephrata War Memorial Field to begin as early as this week. The district expects the project to be complete by the end of August in time for the first home football game of the season.
Troop added that the district’s website is about to go live with shots from a camera mounted on the press box at the field.
“We wanted that during construction so people could log in to see the progress,” said Troop. “Except during a short time when the power will be out during renovation the camera will be live. Hopefully the public will sign in to see how this cornerstone project unfolds.”
For additional information on the Ephrata Area School District, visit easdpa.org.
Gary P. Klinger is a correspondent for The Ephrata Review. He welcomes your questions and comments via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or via twitter at twitter.com/gpklinger.