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Greensburg Salem begins annual balancing act, tackles its next budget

| Thursday, April 18, 2013, 8:55 p.m.

The Greensburg Salem school board is beginning budget talks this year with some big decisions and a deficit to tackle.

Business manager James Meyer presented the first draft of the 2013-14 budget during a board meeting this month.

The draft showed expenses topping revenues by about $1.81 million.

One year ago, the directors were facing a projected deficit of $2.6 million.

“I'm just cautiously optimistic,” Director Lee Kunkle said of the next budget. “It will come down to what the state releases. That's the 500-pound gorilla.”

At this point, the state has suggested increasing the basic subsidy to the district by about $162,000, Meyer said.

Director Ron Mellinger Jr. said he has a rosier view of the budget this time, but directors have some additional goals they would like to achieve.

A priority is reducing the number of students in classrooms, especially in elementary grades, Superintendent Eileen Amato said.

This year, as many as 30 students have been in a class.

The 2013-14 budget draft showed $41.37 million in expenses and $39.56 million in revenue. Most of the expense difference from a year ago can be attributed to salary increases, other personnel costs and retirement contributions, which account for nearly $1.38 million, according to the budget presentation.

District officials are projecting about $2.5 million in reserve at the end of the current school year. The reserve totaled about $3.2 million on June 30, 2012.

Directors would have $695,938 left in reserve on June 30, 2014, if they opted to use all the financial reserve to balance the next budget, according to Meyer's presentation.

If directors supported a 1.75-mill increase — the most they are allowed under Act 1 of 2006 — the increase would raise nearly $400,000 in tax revenue and the reserve would retain nearly $1.1 million, according to the presentation.

If directors backed a 1-mill hike, $226,878 in additional revenue would be raised and the estimated reserve would be nearly $923,000.

Directors hiking taxes by 1.5 mills would net $340,317 in revenue and retain about $1 million in reserve.

Under Act 1 school districts can raise the property tax rate each year by a set percentage, or index, that is determined by several economic indicators.

Greensburg Salem's index for the next budget is 2.2 percent, or a maximum 1.75 mills.

The district would save an immediate $219,000 if eight teachers accept an early-retirement package and would still be able to replace those educators, Amato said.

But she cautioned directors that they must view budgets over more than a one-year period, because a retirement package won't be offered next school year.

Over the last few months, the district has benefited from various revenue gains.

The district netted $287,706 in a tax settlement with Columbia Greensburg SPE over the state office building on North Main Street in Greensburg.

The district further garnered about $354,000 in what Meyer called “late-paid taxes” for the 2011-12 school year.

Directors expect to gain about $360,000 through refinancing a 2010 bond. The money must be used for capital improvements.

Directors hiked real estate taxes by 1.72 mills under the 2012-13 budget.

Since 2000-01, directors have hiked millage 27.84 mills — from 52.12 mills for 2000-01 to 79.96 mills for 2012-13.

Bob Stiles is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-6622 or