Franklin Regional unveils proposed budget
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.