Board continues to chip away at budget deficit

The Williamsport Area School Board voted 6-1 to approve its 2013-14 preliminary budget Tuesday, as it continued to work toward cutting a $3.5 million deficit.

The preliminary budget included a property tax increase of 2.368 mills, which is well above the Act 1 Index set by the state of .347 mills. But as Business Manager Jeffrey Richards explained, taxes will not take the giant proposed jump.

“The millage shown here is what it would take (to balance the budget),” Richards said.

The district is required to show the state what taxes would need to be to balance its budget in order to apply for Act 1 exceptions, which allows it to go beyond the set .347 mills.

As Richards said, this is a “starting point for our budget for next year.” Although the preliminary budget allows the district to apply for the exceptions, Richards said it does not have to use them.

“We’re hoping we aren’t going to need to use any exceptions,” he said.

Board President Lori Baer said it was a step the board is taking during the current budget season.

“This is just kind of a formality in a process,” she said.

After the meeting, Richards said that 18 professional staff retirements, which were approved at the board’s last meeting, were not taken into account in the preliminary budget and would give the district additional savings. Retirements include one administrative position.

Gov. Tom Corbett’s budget proposal earlier this month also would help the district as it would see about $350,000 in additional basic subsidy funds, according to Richards.

A proposed pension reform also would cut the district’s retirement costs in half, Richards said.

But the district may not know if the proposal will be passed before it is required to approve its own budget.

“Whether we know that before we adopt our budget, that is always a concern,” Richard said.