Northgate adopts 2019-20 budget

As expected, the Northgate School Board voted Monday to approve a general fund budget for 2019-20 in the amount of $26,882,134, with a 3 percent property tax millage rate increase generating about $320,000 in additional revenue for the coming fiscal year.

The increased tax revenue is a mere drop in the bucket of a budget deficit that will require the district to use an estimated $3.1 million of its reserve fund balance, the lion’s share of which (some $2 million, according to business manager Chris Ursu) will pay for capital improvement projects such as the $1.6 million stadium rehabilitation. The .71 mill tax increase will bring Northgate’s total millage rate to 25.5 mills. According to Ursu, the owner of a property at the median district value of $91,300 will pay an additional $65 in school property taxes next year.

The budget and millage rate were approved in a 6-3 vote.

Board president Amy Joy Robinson, as well as other board members, criticized the state’s lack of funding for public education, which places most of the financial burden on local taxpayers.

“I can guarantee you the state’s not going to show up and help us,” Robinson said, noting that she would vote for the tax increase this year, but not in future years. “We can say we did this one last time, but that’s it,” she said.

Board member Michael Rajakovic said that the tax increase gives the district a way to buy some more time for a district that is projecting that it will be out of money by 2022. “We’re trying to get the softest landing possible,” he said.

Board member Dan O’Keefe said that that the revenue from the tax increase puts the district in a “better position” as officials explore other options for funding.

Board member Shannon Smithey, who participated in the meeting by phone, agreed that the revenue “gives our school more life rather than less.”

Northgate has not increased taxes since 2014, noted board member Gary Paladin. “In our stewardship of the district, this needs to happen,” he said.

Board member Jennifer McWilliams said that a good public relations campaign will have more impact on the district than a tax increase, and could allow some people to “look past” the millage rate.

The three board members who voted against the increase - John Gratner, Christine King and Tim Makatura - pointed to the argument that the tax increase in no way solves the problem of the district’s pending insolvency.

Gratner said that higher taxes could stunt local economic growth, and that the millage increase did not give the district enough money to make a difference. King agreed, noting that Northgate gets $24 million in revenue each year to educate only 1,100 students. “That should be enough,” she said.

King also said that increasing taxes would not impact the quality of education those students receive. “If $300,000 kept us from cutting two math teachers, I’d do it,” she said.

Makatura said that he might favor the increase if it was part of a more comprehensive plan to solve Northgate’s funding problems, but that was not the case.