AUSTINTOWN SCHOOLS Revised forecast reduces expected deficit

The board will consider options for raising revenue at its work session.
AUSTINTOWN -- A revised budget forecast paints a better financial picture for Austintown schools for fiscal years 2007 through 2009, but Treasurer Barb Kliner said that doesn't mean the district shouldn't be concerned about raising more revenues.
A forecast submitted in June projects a $2,821,451 deficit in 2007; a $7,322,457 deficit in 2008; and a $12,924,738 deficit in 2009.
In the latest forecast that includes those years, however, 2007 has the district in the black with a carry-over of $307,803; there is a deficit projection of $1,380,563 for 2008; and a deficit projection of $3,105,130 in 2009.
For this year, fiscal year 2006, the district began with a larger carry-over than previously projected -- $1,365,398 instead of $87,204.
Kliner said projections beyond two years are only guesses based on information she has at the time.
She said she must make five-year projections under state law, but that is difficult to do because the state only does its budgets for two years.
She said that what happens in previous years affects the carry-over into the next year, and that belt tightening in the district last year did boost the carry-over this year.
The district's cutbacks last year included 18 classified employees, cuts in transportation and a retire-rehire program that brings back retired teachers at a rate less than their previous top-level salaries.
She said health-care costs have gone down, with lower insurance premiums and fewer people covered.
Kliner said she frequently updates her budget forecasts, and information is always changing.
"As you get further into the year, halfway through the year: What's the tax collection been; what do you get from the state; I can make a more accurate guess," she said.
Discussing levies
The school board has scheduled a work session for Oct. 10 to discuss finances. Kliner said she expects they'll discuss putting levies on the ballot in 2006.
She said two five-year renewal levies are still in her projections, and depending on what the board ultimately decides to do her projections could change again.
If the board opted to ask for renewal of two current levies, she said, the district would not collect any more money in taxes than it does now.
The board could ask for a replacement levy, she said, which would restore the millage of the renewal levies to what they were when they passed in 1996.
Under a state law, the millage of the renewal levies went down as more people moved into the district. The law does not allow a school district to collect more money than the levies originally generated, so as more people moved in, that did not mean more revenues for the district, Kliner explained. It just meant there were more people to pay that same amount of revenue.
"More people pay in, but the amount of the pot stays the same," Kliner said. She said a replacement levy would restore the original millage of the two current levies to 4.9 mills, up from 2.9 mills; and to 7.3 mills, up from 5.4 mills.
'Huge decision'
So a replacement levy will mean that people will pay more taxes, said schools Superintendent Douglas Heuer.
Heuer also said another option the board could consider is a new levy, either as a property tax or an income tax.
He said an income tax might actually be a savings for taxpayers over the property taxes that are in effect now and that a wage-earner-only income tax could keep retirees on fixed incomes from being taxed.
Heuer said the renewal levies in effect now represent $5.2 million of the district's total budget.
And he said a tax increase might seem hard to accept as people struggle with rising costs in a tight economy.
But he said people need to realize it's hard to run the schools at the same level as they were run in 1996 on the same amount of money, when costs have risen for the district. "It's going to be a huge decision for the community," he said.

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