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NEW BUDGET PRESENTED WITH NO RISE IN TAX LEVY

The city School Board has been presented with a $59 million budget proposal for 2001-2002 that includes no increase in the tax levy.

According to Business Director Dale Weatherlow, the spending plan represents a decrease of slightly more than $6.1 million over the current year's budget. The decrease is primarily because the district has accelerated its payments on debt for capital projects.

With no final state aid figures nor equalization rates in towns -- which are part of the enlarged district -- available, Weatherlow told board members Wednesday night there are no tax rate figures yet. But he said the amount to be raised locally by taxes is the same as in 2000-2001.

Weatherlow said district officials have been able to retain programs and even expand some in the new budget.

"We've increased our involvement with the academic intervention services, (so) we've had to increase staff with a couple of positions at the high school," he said. "And (we had to) shore up some aid areas in special education and some itinerant services."

In some areas, noted Weatherlow, there will be some significant spending increases.

"We'll see a large increase, obviously, in natural gas (prices). This year was pretty devastating in our budget, like everyone's, even homeowners," he said. "It's one of those budget things that you try and prepare for, and you never know because there's no crystal ball. So we did increase that allocation in case next year comes in anything like this year."

In the natural gas account, said Weatherlow, the increase over the past year has been 42 percent. He added that transportation costs have, in contrast, gone down by $300,000 because the district will no longer contract out for that service.

Overall, Weatherlow indicated the new spending plan has worked well because of "aggressive budgeting" to pay down the principal on the district's debt for capital projects. He's disappointed, though, that more can't be paid back more quickly.

"Basically, the state has taken the stand that they won't allow us to pay back more than approximately 75 percent of the principal payment within the first three years, so I've had to relax on our aggressiveness on paying it back because of those regulations," said Weatherlow.

The district is continuing with an approximately $73 million capital improvement project at all of its elementary and middle schools, and the high school.

Weatherlow also said this will likely be the only budget meeting until final aid figures are in, if they are in, before the spending plan is put before the voters in May.

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