Alternatives to tax hike urged

By JOHN DOANE

A former member of the Northgate School Board, now living in the Avonworth School District, urged the school board Monday to find alternatives to a planned .75 mill property tax increase.

"In the current economic times we are facing, it is critical every step is taken to avoid the simplistic view of just increasing the tax rate," said former Northgate School Board finance chairman Keith Egyed. "I would stress that you find a way not to increase taxes."
Since the adoption of Act 1, which requires voter referendum approval of large tax increases, Avonworth officials have been increasing the property tax millage rate in small increments each year in order to maintain the reserve funds at 7 percent of the districts operating budget.

The .75 mill property tax increase is part of a proposed $21.3 million budget that projected a $775,562 deficit without the transfer of reserve funds.

Egyed asked the school board if it had considered the student-teacher ratio within the district, if the board had put a hiring freeze in effect, and if there were other expenses or line items in the budget that could be cut or controlled. For instance, Egyed noted the parking lot lights at the elementary school have been on until 10 a.m. for the past two months. With no one making an adjustment to the timer or sensor on the lights, the district was just wasting money, he said.

Avonworth School board president David Oberdick said that the board has looked at "tightening the belt, so to speak," and that plans that have been in place since last fall regarding growth at teacher levels and positions have been eliminated. Oberdick said that the board has looked into many of the things that Egyed mentioned, and that the district had just come out of the strategic planning process, that showed that the student-teacher ratios are in line with what the district values in the way of education.

Avonworth's director of fiscal management, Brad Waters, said that there are various factors that could affect the budget, including interest income, real estate transfer taxes and delinquent real estate tax collection, and that towards the end of the school year, when he looks at the revenues again, he tries to adjust the budget accordingly.

Waters also noted that there is growth in the community, and that has helped limit any millage increases over the years.

Board member Jeff Schmid said he was against the proposed budget, citing the same concerns as Egyed.

According to Schmid, the district's actual revenues always exceed the revenues projected in the budget.

Later in the meeting, the school board approved the proposed 2009-10 budget by an 8-1 vote, with Schmid opposed.

The school board will hold a public hearing on the budget on May 11.

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