SV still faces tough decisions on budget
Cranberry Eagle
Written by:
May 8, 2013

JACKSON TWP — The Seneca Valley School District’s expected budget deficit for the 2013-14 school year has been cut in half because of a combination of unexpected revenues and decreased expenditures.

Business manager Lynn Burtner told the school board Monday night that the district now has a $1.4 million budget deficit, well below the $2.8 million shortfall projected in February.

The board is expected to vote next week on a proposed budget. School districts are required to have a budget in place by the end of June.

Seneca Valley’s proposed budget estimates $101 million in expenditures.

Burtner cited a laundry list of examples for the decreased deficit, including the fact that the average value of a mill has changed slightly. She said the district will realize an extra $265,000 this year because of that increased value alone.

The district also is set to receive $500,000 because of an increase in earned income tax collection due to a significant decrease in delinquencies.

The fact that the projected budget deficit has been lowered doesn’t mean there still aren’t hard decisions to be made.

Superintendent Tracy Vitale said the board has the option to increase taxes by 4.75 mills this year. Those mills come from the 2.2 mills allowed under an inflationary index set by the state, in addition to the 2.55 mills in special exceptions granted by permission from the state.

If the board decides to enact the maximum millage increase of 4.75 mills, the move would bring in almost $2.5 million to the district.

However, Vitale said, the board could bridge the deficit and pass a balanced budget if it decides to raise taxes only by 2.75 mills.

But even with any potential tax increase, Vitale said cuts in personnel and other areas are still options to help defray costs for taxpayers.

“This budget is the best I’ve seen in my two years as superintendent,” Vitale said. “But until we no longer have cuts and until we can balance the budget without a millage increase, we’re not out of the woods.”

Board member Jim Nickel said Monday night that the district could further reduce the burden on taxpayers if the board chooses to reduce its contingency fund.

That fund is used in emergency situations to help pay for various expenditures not budgeted throughout a given school year. Seneca Valley currently has $750,000 budgeted for the contingency fund.

Nickel analyzed the contingency fund and how much of it the district has used in the past several years, and said the district could get by without budgeting so much.

He suggested cutting $250,000 from the contingency fund, adding that the savings realized from that move could help defray potential tax increases.

“That’s about half a mill saved right there,” he said.

Vitale noted that Nickel brought up the same issue last year, and that she still has some of the same concerns that prevent her from endorsing the idea.

“I get very nervous when we start cutting the contingency fund. You know how I feel about that,” Vitale said. “That’s a short-term fix. What about the long term?”

Board member Eric Gordon agreed with Vitale and argued that the contingency fund should actually be increased to $1 million, which is where the fund had previously been set before being decreased several years ago.

“As far as the long-term perspective, we can’t keep balancing our budget with one-time funding sources,” Gordon said.

The board will vote on the proposed budget next week and will approve a final budget in June.