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District approves budget PDF Print E-mail

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ELLY GRIMM
• Leader & Times



EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part two of the story recapping the most recent meeting of the USD 480 school board Monday evening and will focus on the discussion of the approved proposed 2017-18 budget. 


Talk turned to money to begin new business for the USD 480 school board during its most recent meeting Monday evening. 

“What’s going  to happen is yes, there will be an increase ... if you remember last year, when I brought it to the board, there was an appeal on the deal, and I went on the conservative side and we proposed that mill levy and it came in less because the appeal never happened,” USD 480 Director of Business Jerry Clay began. “That appeal is still out there saying they believe it will be in favor of Seward County. If you keep the same mill levy as last year, we’re going to lose $1.2 million in Local Option Budget funds. At some point in time, depending on when you vote to give raises, you’d have to get that $1.2 million back. So do you want two years of increased mill levy or one year of increased mill levy and then we work to keep it steady?”

“And we’ve done a really great job of keeping the mill levy fairly steady especially since the bond,” Superintendent Renae Hickert said. 

The proposed budget for the 2017-18 year is $86,386,545 with a mill levy level of 50.195. The bond project and interest within the budget will be $9,306,563 with a mill levy level of 13.044. 

While there was overall pleasure expressed about the budget, Board President Steve Helm brought up some concerns. 

“This is the Jerry Clay prepared budget. No board discussed this in open session, so how are we going to have this budget?” Helm asked. “We’ve got a financial committee that got to meet once, and the budget was already prepared. This budget has no input from any board member I know of. We’re taking an extra $1.6 million this year from property tax alone in Seward County, we’ll be going from $8.1 million to $9.7 million. Our total expenditures are going from $61 million to $67.5 million. We have a record amount in Capital Outlay. We were told there were no encumbrances this year. We’ve prepaid $4.3 million in bills as well as having $2.1 million left over. Why do we need another $1.7 million? It’s outrageous to say the least. You guys sit up here and complain about sales tax going down, and we’re taking $1.6 million out of the local economy, and that’s money people could spend and pay sales tax on.”

“I would counter with how many years has it been since we’ve been able to give our employees an increase?” Hickert asked. “Other than steps for teachers and a quarter an hour, that’s what I would counter.” 

“And we’re also receiving an extra nearly $4 million from the State of Kansas this year than we received last year,” Helm said. 

“I’m not arguing with you, we are receiving more money,” Clay answered. “And part of that is KPERS, part of that is one-time money for facility waiting. There’s not argument there, I will not disagree with the state.”

Ultimately, the board approved the proposed 2017-18 budget by a margin of 6-1, with Helm voting no. In a separate interview, Clay and Hickert delved into some more details about the budget and praised the work that went into it. 

“The board was very interested, and they still are, in providing a stable mill levy not to go above a certain level, which is 13, and we’ve done really good with that the past three years,” Hickert said. “We’ve either stayed right at 13 or slightly less than that. And that’s important because the board wanted stability in the bond and interest mill levy for the taxpayers. It helps budgeting here too. Anything that can be planned for, is a good thing, and surprises can cost a lot of money for Jerry, which neither of us like.”

Clay and Hickert also talked about last year’s numbers. 

“Last year, what USD 480 opted to do, we knew there was a company in the area protesting its taxes, and that amounted to $44 million,” Hickert said. “We wanted to make sure what we published in the paper ... had the county lost that lawsuit, all the entities in town, we would have had to raise the mill levy to make money.”

“USD 480 was the only local entity that took that out, and it caused our mill levy to go down,” Clay added. “If they’d lost that case, we would have been right at what we proposed, and the city, county, college, they all would have went up. We played conservative and had a lower mill levy last year.”

The case is currently ongoing, Hickert said, which affected some decisions. Overall, Hickert continued, the district has worked to keep everything stable for local taxpayers, which is a good thing, and said the district is confident in how the budget is set up. 

“It’s always best if you can keep the mill levy stable,” Hickert said. “That’s not always the case due to certain factors, so occasionally we may have to bump it just a bit to cover costs. But something else that happened this year was the school finance lawsuit was settled, and if that turns out to be approved by the Supreme Court, that will be good for USD 480, and that’s reflected in all this. That’s the reason we have more money and why we have more budgeted for this year. And another thing that’s in the budget is when you build new schools, you get extra money for two years, and that’s also reflected in the increase this year, and what that money does is give a bit of a buffer for costs, and that also gives some time to plan.”

“This is the second year we’ll get that money for Prairie View and Eisenhower, and then we won’t get that anymore for next year,” Clay added. “Then next year will be the second year for Seymour Rogers, Meadowlark, and MacArthur.”

In other business, the board also approved the purchases of a dynamometer for the Liberal High School athletic training department and discovery room furniture for   Cottonwood Elementary School and Sunflower Elementary School. The board also approved two assistant counselor positions at LHS and approved the purchases of a washer-extractor for the LHS laundry facility and a new HVAC unit for the USD 480 Central Office.

 

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The High Plains Daily Leader and Southwest Daily Times are published Sunday through Friday and reaches homes throughout the Liberal, Kansas retail trade zone. The Leader & Times is the official newspaper of Seward County, USD No. 480, USD No. 483 and the cities of Liberal and Kismet.  The Leader & Times is a member of the Liberal Chamber of Commerce, the Kansas Press Association and the Associated Press.

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