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Franklin Regional unveils proposed budget

| Wednesday, May 7, 2014, 7:06 p.m.

Franklin Regional School District officials are keeping an open mind as they head into the final phase of budget planning.

School board members on Monday approved a preliminary budget that includes a 0.83-mill increase in the property-tax rate — and an $11,000 surplus.

“I can't remember a budget year that looked this good,” longtime board member Roberta Cook said. “But I can't remember, looking ahead, a budget year that looks as ugly as next year (2015-16).”

The board will vote late next month on the district's final budget. Jon Perry, director of finance, said there are a lot of uncertainties still remaining in the draft budget.

For instance, officials don't know the level of special-education funding the district will receive from the Westmoreland Intermediate Unit or the final price of fuel through a countywide consortium. Board members also haven't evaluated which of the 11 retirees will be replaced.

New board member Jeremy Samek questioned Perry about a surplus that was transferred into a reserve fund to help pay for increasing mandated retirement contributions. The board transferred $2 million into the fund earlier this year.

Perry said he budgets conservatively because there are so many uncertainties — the cost of natural gas, health-insurance premiums and teacher leave-of-absences, to name a few — in the budget.

“If we have a mild winter, we see a surplus in natural gas. But not this year; we're going over that budgeted amount,” Perry said. “We still have four months left in the 13-14 fiscal year. I can't nail down what our surplus will look like then.”

If adopted, the millage increase would cost the owner of a home assessed at $35,000 — which is about the median home assessment in the district — an additional $29 a year.

Cook advocated for the increase and reminded board members that there are only so many ways a school district can balance a budget.

“We can raise taxes, cut our programming or use up our budgetary reserve fund,” she said. “What we have done is a combination of all three. It is unwise and impossible to raise taxes to cover the full amount.”

The proposed budget is available for public review at the district administration office.

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