District expected to approve budget and tax request Monday

September 13, 2018

The Columbus Public Schools Board of Education is looking to approve its final 2018-2019 school budget during its 5:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 17, meeting held inside the ESU 7/CPS Student Center, 2563 44th Ave.

During a recently held special hearing, Columbus residents had the opportunity to listen and comment on the proposed budget and tax request, which must be finalized and submitted to the state by Sept. 20.

The district’s total 2018-2019 budget is listed at $65,488,031, which is down about 1.25 percent ($831,000) in comparison to the 2017-2018 budget. The General Fund, comprising about 75 percent of the overall budget, contains $48,772,376 under the proposed budget.

David Melick, executive director of business operations and human relations, said that a portion of the budget decrease can be attributed to $2.8 million in out-of-pocket expenses relating to the construction of Columbus High School.

“We spent a little less than $3 million on the final payment on our high school construction project right at the beginning of last year,” Melick said. “And we didn’t have the money in the Special Building Fund, so it came out of the General Fund in September (2017).”

District expenses have led to a proposed tax request increase of $.0018, setting the total tax levy at $1.249979 per $100 of assessed valuation for home owners. The tax levy would generate $19,328,110 for the general fund and an additional $3.8 million for the district’s bond fund, Melick said.

In real terms, a homeowner with a $150,000 home would see a $2.81 increase in their district obligations. That comes out to a little more than a 23-cent increase monthly, Melick said.

The property tax bump, Melick said, enables the district to meet its known spending.

“We brought on eight-and-a-half new staff to meet the strategic plan, there’s enrollment growth, program expansion and we entered into the new lease-purchase arrangement with the one-to-one computer device project which was a little more expensive,” he said.

To comply with state statute and present a balanced budget later this month, the district is dipping into its cash reserves for $6.5 million, which Melick said was expected.

“I’m comfortable with the $6.5 million, because we have never been very close to that in the terms of cash on hand to make expenses during the lean times when the tax receipts are not coming in real quickly,” he said.

One positive seen this budget cycle is an increase in state aid dollars, with the district receiving $520,000 more than during the 2017-2018 school year. The amount of state aid provided is determined by the State Aid Formula, which assesses a district’s needs in comparison with the amount of local tax dollars being generated.

“They define the need, then subtract what we can raise locally by maxing out (the levy) and that equals what we get in state aid dollars,” Superintendent Troy Loeffelholz said.

With state aid ebbing and flowing from year to year, property taxes have proven to be a more stable revenue stream for many school districts.

“Property value is a more secure piece of funding for us and our budget than the State Aid Formula,” Loeffelholz said. “Any time valuation goes up, that’s a more stable source of income than state-aid dollars. And the unfortunate thing is that people have to pay more in taxes because, in my opinion the state hasn’t lived up to its obligation to support (public) schools.”

Many smaller school districts like Lakeview Public Schools and Humphrey Public Schools receive far less state dollars and are very dependent on property taxes, he said, because the state aid formula identifies that local resources can meet these districts’ needs without the state dipping into its own pockets.

While no budget is perfect and not every single expense can be anticipated, the superintendent said he feels satisfied about what this year’s budget does for the district and its taxpayers.

“For the most part, I think that people are happy with what we are doing with taxpayer dollars,” Loeffelholz said. “We are very efficient. A large portion of our budget comes from state and federal dollars and a portion comes from local … We’ve really built budgets around our strategic plan and what is needed, not nice things to have, but what is needed based out of necessity.”

Sam Pimper is the news editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at sam.pimper@lee.net.

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