Officials: Tax increase may not make up for cuts

By Bethany Knipp

USD 383 is projecting a tax increase of 1.14 mills for property owners next year. But even with the tax increase, the budget appears ready to decrease and might require spending cuts.

The mill levy would rise from 52.46 to 53.60 based on increases in three areas of the school district’s budget.

A mill is $1 in tax for every $1,000 in assessed, taxable property value.

For a homeowner with a house worth $100,000, property taxes would increase from $557 to $584.58 with an average 2.3 percent increase in home value factored in.

The areas where the district might increase its mill levy are in the capital outlay budget for long-term project expenses, the bond and interest budget and its special assessment budget, which is used for extra taxes the district pays for some of its buildings in newer areas.

USD 383 director of business services Lew Faust said that, overall, the 2015 budget would decrease from $48,402,621 to $47,378,115 for several reasons.

Those reasons include a predicted drop of about 100 students from the virtual education program after the district terminated its contract with the previous provider, K-12 Inc., and builds its own virtual program.

The nearly $1 million budget decrease also includes projected equalization money based on a school finance bill recently passed by the Kansas Legislature. It has yet to be approved or vetoed by Gov. Sam Brownback.

Faust said the district’s budget would be strained next year with less money and increased costs from salaries, benefits and inflation from other expenses including flood insurance USD 383 had to purchase last year.

“We would have to look at some ways to try to find some cost efficiencies to make the budget work,” he said.

That means taxes could be raised, budgets might be cut or school fees could be increased.

Faust said the school board will begin budget discussions in May and that these projections could change as the district gets more information.

“It’s very early in the process and those are our best projections at this point,” he said.

One way to help raise money is to increase USD 383’s Local Option Budget, which is funded through local property taxes, but school board members are hesitant to do so.

Some members were worried about the lack of flexibility in raising that money because of state limitations.

“If we do that, we don’t have anywhere else to go in the future without an election, so that gets to be really tough,” school board vice president Leah Fliter said at Wednesday’s school board meeting. “It’s not a good situation.”

Member Dave Colburn said options are few and he’s concerned about the district’s long term financial future more than what appears will be about an even hold in 2015’s budget.

“We’ve had a pattern, in my opinion, of underfunding for a long time,” he said. “I’m worried long term. I’m not as worried about next year.”

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