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Budget process eye-opening for new Franklin Regional officials

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By Daveen Rae Kurutz
Wednesday, June 18, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
 

The 2014 budget season was an eye-opening experience for several new Franklin Regional School Board members, as they realized that state-mandated costs meant a tax rate increase was necessary.

On Monday, the school board approved a 0.83-mill tax rate increase by a vote of 8-1, with board member Dennis Pavlik dissenting.

All four freshman board members — Gregg Neavin, Susan Ilgenfritz, George Harding and Jeremy Samek — campaigned on fiscal responsibility, and all four voted to raise taxes.

“I never realized how very little of a portion of the budget we have control of on a local basis,” said Neavin, who campaigned on the principle that not enough was being done to save money in the district. “(State-mandated retirement contributions) is an ongoing challenge across the state.”

During last year's campaign, the four new members criticizing prior boards for raising taxes so frequently. This year's tax increase is Franklin Regional's 11th in the past 12 years.

Board member Susan Ilgenfritz, who wanted the district to “think outside of the box” before raising taxes again, said the reality of school budgets is very different once a person is sitting at the board table.

“I didn't see the full picture before. As a board member, you're privileged to a lot of sensitive information,” Ilgenfritz said. “Now that I'm on the board, I've learned that we take things one year at a time.”

Board member George Harding, who originally questioned which costs to the district actually were fixed, said he thinks the board has looked everywhere to make cuts without hurting the district's programs.

The board faced a $281,000 deficit after five months of whittling away at the budget, business manager Jon Perry said. Board Vice President Herb Yingling said the board initially needed to make about $2 million worth of changes to the budget.

The biggest problem, Harding said, is a $1.2 million increase to the state-mandated retirement contribution.

“It's a big monster out there that needs to be fed,” Harding said.

Despite his dissenting vote, Pavlik said there isn't anything intrinsically wrong with the budget. Instead, he wants to see the board work harder to cut costs.

“I don't feel we've done enough to investigate cost savings,” Pavlik said. “We can't keep going back to the taxpayers.”

The district's $50.3 million budget includes $285,000 from a committed fund balance for retirement contributions.

The tax rate for Franklin Regional property owners is 88.51 mills, equal to $2,992 for properties with the district-median assessment of $33,735. The increase will raise the tax bill by $28.

Daveen Rae Kurutz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-871-2365, or dkurutz@tribweb.com.

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