Board approves $94 million plan for 2014, but some members think it shrinks reserve too much

By Bill Felber

USD 383 board members Wednesday approved a $94 million 2014 budget on a split vote.

The budget, which contains a 52.464 mill levy, was one of three considered during Wednesday’s meeting. The vote was 4-3 with opponents expressing concern that it reduced the district’s reserve fund too much. It would increase the overall authorization for district spending by about $2.7 million from the current-year figure of $91.326 million.

Board members Dave Colburn, Marcia Rozell, Curt Herrman and Pat Hudgins constituted the majority. Board members Leah Fliter, Aaron Estabrook and Darell Edie voted against the proposal.

Lew Faust, the district’s budget director, told board members that the option they eventually approved would increase the district’s levy 2.019 mills from the present 50.396 mills. Factoring in average valuation changes, Faust said the impact on an average homeowner would be to raise property taxes from about $997 to about $1,070. He said taxes on a half-million dollar business would increase from about $6,300 to about $6,558.

Of the three options the board considered Wednesday, the one that was adopted involved the smallest increase in the levy and drew the largest amount from reserve funds. To fill a $1.607 million budget gap, it drew $810,000 from district reserves, taking them from about $1.942 million down to about $1.1 million. The tax increase raised an additional $797,000.

Two other proposals would have decreased the reserve fund by lesser amounts with correspondingly higher tax increases.

The $1.607 million gap board members needed to fill was occasioned by earlier decisions to increase planning and other non-classroom time for elementary teachers, provide an average 2.5 percent pay increase for teachers, and increase the base salary figure by $750. An additional factor was the need to offset the impact of loss of funds due to sequestration, and to state-imposed reductions.

Edie said his opposition was based on concern that the board might have to increase taxes more last year “because we took too much out of reserves.” Estabrook wondered whether “the average homeowner would be willing to pay another $1 (in taxes) to secure” the money lost from reserves. At one point he and Colburn debated the matter.

“Either it’s a $4 burden on the homeowner or a $120,000 burden n the district,” Estabrook said.

That prompted Colburn to reply that “the burden’s on the taxpayer either way…those aren’t our dollars.”

In the end, the four-member majority appeared persuaded by Colburn’s argument that “if the administration didn’t think they can make (the reduced) contingency work, they wouldn’t have proposed it.”

Pott County school site

Board members unanimously agreed to the purchase of a site along Lake Elbo Road that could be used for development of a future elementary school. They did so after receiving a report from an engineering consultant verifying that the site contained no insurmountable obstacles to its use for that purpose.

The site is 30.79 acres in size. There are no immediate plans to actually construct the school, which presumably would serve growing areas of USD 383 in western Pottawatomie County.

Wednesday’s action allows district officials to proceed with closing on the purchase of the property.

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