VARDEN – During a special meeting Thursday night, the Western Wayne School Board adopted its budget for the 2014-15 school year, which comes with a six percent tax increase.
The budget has been in discussion for several months. Missing money from the state in regards to the PLAN CON process has had a detrimental effect on the district, shorting them nearly $2 million since 2011.
The PLAN CON process is what public schools follow when undergoing a major building project.
If followed, the district is allowed to receive reimbursement from the state for construction costs.
Western Wayne took part in this process prior to construction of the EverGreen School and secured loans based on the fact this funding would be present.
The board waited to pass the final budget as long as they could before the June 30 deadline, in the hopes that the state passed its budget on time and the district knew what it would receive.
“By chance the money from PLAN CON comes through, the board is allowed to re-open the budget,” said board member Gary Podunajec during the May meeting.
After an hour-long executive session regarding personnel, the budget became the focus.
Board member Donald McDonough made a motion to table the budget. It failed with no second.
Board member Doris Pliss made a motion to vote on the budget. Board member Donald Olsommer, who was attending via phone, seconded the motion.
The budget shows $40,900,792 of estimated available resources, establishing a real estate tax millage of 15.81.
Real estate mills for the 2013-14 school year was 14.915.
The motion states there is a “two percent discount if the whole amount of the tax is paid within two months after the date of the tax notice; payment at face if the tax is paid within two months following the end of the discount period; penalty of 10 percent on all taxes not paid within four months after the date of the tax notice.”
Board member David Lindow said this was one of the hardest votes he ever had to make because in principle he “doesn't like what's happening.”
“As I contemplated it, there are a couple reasons why I'm going to come down on the yes side,” he stated. “One of them is that I don't see any way that saying no will ultimately save the taxpayers any money.
“It will cost them more because it's a violation of the law and we don't have the privilege of simply voting ourselves more time. We don't have the privilege of running the school in any way without this.
“I'm sad to see there aren't more people upset about it. Voting no is simply not complying with the law. It will hurt kids ultimately and I think it will lead to costing us a lot more money in the long run.”
Lindow added it's his hope the public gets more involved and it can slow down the downgrade before the next budget comes.
“We're immediately working on next year's budget,” he said. “We are beginning to lay out a business plan, which is something we never really had to do before. All of this should help make clear what the future will hold.
“Part of the reason the increase, in my mind, is so big, is because four, five, six years ago, the board decided not to take any increases and ever since it's gone only to the index. The result of that has been that we drained our fund balance.”
He said around four years ago the fund balance was around $5 million and now it's down to $1 million.
“To vote no, to even function we would have to drain that fund balance completely and the result of that would be our credit rating would be an absolute disaster.
“We would end up paying a lot more throughout the future. It's a horrible decision to have to make, but that's why I'm saying yes.”
Board member Bernice Fiorella agreed with Lindow.
“We all are here sick about this,” she said. “As we sit here it's tough to say no because I have no alternative plan. It's a tough situation to be in and nobody wants to say yes.
“If I say yes, do I want that? No, but I don't have an answer if I say no. Where does that put us? To say no is one thing and not to have a plan in place, what is that doing?”
Board President Alvin Hollister said they've investigated everything from refinancing current bonds in order to eliminate the increase.
“We've looked at every avenue possible,” he stated. “There's such a detriment to the financial state of the district that that's not a wise decision.
“The options aren't good. Anything that we do is going to hurt us in the long run, so we have to make the right decision and unfortunately, unless we had a better option saying no means nothing.
“We have looked at everything available to us and every avenue that we know. We do appreciate the input our public has had over the last few months. We've had a lot of attendance at our meetings and work sessions and have seen a lot of sincere interest from our residents.”
Pliss added it breaks her heart to have to say yes to the budget.
“Some people have said to cut the extra curricular activities and sports programs,” she said. “That would give us around $650,000, but what are we doing to our students or the community if we do that?
“I think this whole board agrees, as I'm sure you do too, that we are here for the students and not for ourselves. We do give the best education that we can possibly give.”
Treasurer William Gershey said their backs are against the wall.
“Our obligation as a board is to set policy and provide the means for education to continue in this district,” he stated. “We have to fulfill our obligation and has been pointed out, there isn't much we can do.
“I certainly don't want to vote for it, but I don't think we have a choice. We are all taxpayers as well. It's a situation which there is just no other alternative at this point.”
Board member AJ Gaudenzi said the state has failed us.
“The bottom line is unless we push our state legislatures in Harrisburg to adopt pension reform, to adopt the reforms necessary to save you the people money, we are going to continue this over and over again,” he stated. “Not only the people, but the students, are going to be the ones who suffer because the state legislators meddle in Harrisburg when they can't pass a budget on time.
“The fact is they don't care about you. They care about telling you things you want to hear and putting a smile on your face when they shake your hand at a parade, but the first thing they're waiting to do is not take necessary steps to ensure sure that the future and the future of your children, the district and the state is going to be the one that is brightened.
“I will vote no because I'm standing against the state because I don't believe in what is stands for. I don't believe in how it harbors you and harbors us.”
When it came time to vote, it was done by role call. It passed by a vote of 7-2.
Gaudenzi voted no and Fiorella voted no despite her prior statements.