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Hempfield budget still tenuous

| Tuesday, March 19, 2013, 9:23 a.m.

The budget numbers for the 2013-14 school year in the Hempfield Area School District sound worse than they are, said business manager Jude Abraham.

The district is looking at a 1.5-mill tax hike, increases in pension contributions and health care premiums, and a potential budget deficit of $4 million, he said.

“I can say we are on track where we want to be,” Abraham told the board on Monday. “I feel we're better off this year than last. We're definitely moving in the right direction.”

By the time the preliminary budget is ready, Abraham said, the district can reduce the deficit to $2.2 million with several potential cost-saving measures that include the closing of an elementary school and elimination of an educational program.

According to preliminary figures, Hempfield's budget has projected revenue of $81.3 million and expenditures of $85.3 million. The current budget is $80.2 million.

The tax increase will generate an additional $900,000 in revenue. Last year, the state Legislature increased the district's basic education subsidy by $290,000. If that figure is reduced this year, Abraham said, “we're going back to the drawing board.”

Wage increases will be modest, $36.6 million to $40 million, he said. Pensions and health care will increase from $16.8 million to $18.7 million. Contributions to the Pennsylvania State Employees Retirement System are increasing by 4.5 percent to nearly 17 percent. Abraham said that without those increases, “we'd be in very good shape.”

The school board hopes to save $1 million with the closing of Bovard Elementary School next year and $400,000 with the elimination of Crossroads, an alternative education program within the district. Depending on the number of retirements, Abraham estimates the district could save $350,000 in salaries, benefits and pensions.

Abraham said there are “unhealthy trends” dogging the district.

Hempfield will receive less transportation reimbursement because the district is running fewer bus routes, and investment income has dropped from a peak of $600,000 a year to $38,000, he said.

“Our investment income is almost nothing. It's just horrible.”

Richard Gazarik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6292 or at rgazarik@tribweb.com.

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