Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Boyertown Adopts $115M Preliminary Budget That Raises Taxes 5.4%, Pledges to Bring Increase Down




The Boyertown Area School Board voted 8-1 Tuesday night to adopt a $115 million preliminary budget for the 2018-19 school year that would raise taxes by 5.44 percent.

Even tax hawks Clay Breece, Robert Caso and Ruth Dierolf voted for the plan convinced, evidently by Interim Superintendent David Krem's argument that not adopting the plan would limit flixibility later on.

Board member Christine Neiman cast the only dissenting vote.

"I want to keep all programs, but comes a time in life when something's got to give," she said. "We have to stop spending unnecessarily on stuff, be more fiscally responsible to community."

Breece, Dierolf and Caso had also all indicated their opposition to the plan until Krem spoke.

"Even if you decide to close a school, the state procedure takes 24 months. It would not affect the coming budget," said Krem, arguing for the necessity of the "flexibility" applying for exceptions gives.

Krem was referring to the "exceptions" contained in Act 1 which requires school boards to either adopt a preliminary budget that stays within the state-imposed tax cap, or index, by the end of February; or adopt a resolution pledging to keep within that index in the final budget adoption in June.

Boyertown has adopted that resolution in recent years, but a motion to do so two weeks ago failed on a 5-4 vote, with Caso, Breece, Dierolf and Neiman all voting to stay within the cap.

Under Act 1, if you don't stay within the index, which for Boyertown this year is 2.9 percent, you need to seek voter approval in the spring primary -- unless you seek "exceptions" from the state for a set of prescribed reasons that include pension payments, special education and construction.

In Boyertown's case, they are seeking the special education exception, approved by the board with only Dierolf and Neiman voting no, that allows the spending of up to $1,583,570 above the amount raised by the index.

"The hammer hasn't even dropped yet in terms of what's coming in the next two or three years," said Krem, referring to the pension crisis, urging the board to ensure it has all its options available to deal with the difficult decisions ahead. 

Not adopting the preliminary budget before the February deadline means, "you're basically cutting your own throat," he said.

"Take special education for example," said Krem. "If don't approve this budget, that's $1.5 million you can't claim that your taxpayers will have to make up," he said.

The budget, as it stands now early in the process, has a deficit of nearly $5 million — $4,973,252 to be exact -- according to the agenda.

Raising taxes to the index would reduce the deficit to $3.2 million and adding extra revenue from the exceptions would reduce it further still to $1.6 million.

Residents also supported the board's choice.

GOOD JOB: School Resource Officer Gregory Miller, right,
a former 

Boyertown Police Officer, is congratulated
by Brandon Foose on being 
named Police Liaison
Officer of the Year by the Community Youth 
Aid
Panel of Berks County.
Resident Stephanie Deiterich said regular, manageable increases are like investing in a retirement account, except the beneficiaries over time are the community and the students.
She urged board members to stop using "houses up for sheriff's sale" for non-payment of taxes as a tool to instill fear about the budget. She said her research shows less than 1 percent of the homes in the district are up for tax sale.

John Landio, the board's former president, said some had "duped the community into thinking we can have zero tax hikes, and said the board needs to "work together," noting that The Philadelphia Eagles did not win the Super Bowl as individuals, but as a team.

Lisa Hogan of Gilbertsville said she has four children in school and although she "loves my money," she advocated for increased taxes to preserve the programs and reputation of the school district.

As Finance Committee Chairman Steve Eisler pointed out, it is very early in the process and the figures are likely to change several times before June.

In the interests of maintaining flexibility, Caso and Breece both said they would change their vote. Ultimately, so too did Dierolf. "Let's pass it, get it over with and sharpen the pencils afterward," said Caso.

Caso also criticized the previous board for failing to undertake a year-long budget review and Krem agreed. "when you're doing a budget, you should also be looking two and three years out," he said.

Eisler agreed.

"We need a new CFO, new look, and new ideas. We need new blood," he said. 

Longtime Chief Financial Officer David Szablowski announced his departure in November.

"So much of what we do is mandated, we have so little control of much of our budget," said School Board president Donna Usavage. "What's left is close to the students."

Board member Brandon Foose suggested the board set up a workshop meeting dedicated solely to brainstorming about ways to cut costs and trim the tax hike without cutting programs.

Resident Ruth Baker offered up some suggestions, including using solar power, having energy audits done to sdave on operating costs; cutting the number of vice principals in the high schools and planting trees to shade buildings and cut down on air conditioning costs.

In another matter of interest, the board also voted to spend $16,000 on further study and suggested solutions to structural problems at the Memorial Stadium at Boyertown Area Senior High School.

We'll have more on that in later editions of The Mercury.

In the meantime, here are the Tweets.

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