- Last Updated on Wednesday, 12 June 2013 10:52
- Published on Wednesday, 12 June 2013 10:51
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Council members discuss how to make good on the budget promises to the school board.
The Colonial Beach Town Council held a special meeting on Monday, June 10, to discuss the budget and to try figure out how they will make good on their promise to fully fund the town’s school system.
Back in May, the council heard an explanation from the school system on their budget request. Due to federal cutbacks, the school system had lost almost one million dollars in federal funding. The council unanimously committed to funding an extra $400,000 to cover the shortfall created, even after additional funding for the school system had been committed to by the council.
Ham laid out the budget dilemma, “The school is asking for $2,153,198 this year. The town has committed $1,780,281 to the school, which leaves a $372,917 shortfall. In the draft budget [for the town] we are looking at possibly a $105,000 surplus for the town. So if we apply that to the school, that would still leave us with $267,917 short. The only way to cover that is through a property tax increase. I know we had talked about a seven-cent increase in the past.”
However, Ham calculated that a five-cent increase would generate $250,000 more to provide to the school. Along with the $105,000 surplus, that would give the town a total of $355,000 revenue to fund most of the extra money the school is requesting. “Leaving around a $17,000 shortfall,” Ham said, “but I think we can work with that.”
Ham told the council that they need to decide if they are going to go ahead with a real estate increase, and to fund the schools’ budget. Some council members, however, where uncomfortable about deciding on a tax increase at the special meeting that day.
The council voted unanimously to fund the schools’ budget, but decided to revisit options on how to carry out the funding.
The June 10 meeting lasted six hours, and many ideas were given by council members on how to cut spending in both the town and the school system. Council members grilled school and town officials on spending and budget items, asking for explanations on several line items of both budgets, and asking why those items could not be cut.
Many of the ideas to cut spending could not be implemented without costly advertising, public hearings and ordinance changes.
The town has advertised to increase: real estate taxes by from $0.58 to $0.63 per $100 of assessed value, lodging tax from four percent to five percent, meals tax from four percent to five percent, and cigarette tax from $0.25 to $0.30 per pack. The council will hold a public hearing on Wednesday, June 19, at 7 p.m. at Town Center in Colonial Beach to conduct a public hearing on the matter of raising taxes.
Several members showed a reluctance to raise real estate taxes. Councilwomen Linda Brubaker and Wanda Goforth, and Councilman Jim Chiarello adamantly stated that they will not vote for a raise in real estate taxes. By law, in order to raise taxes, there must be a majority vote of five members.
The council agreed to the other tax increases, but will not vote on the real estate taxes matter until after the June 19 public hearing. The council also proposed implementing a hiring freeze, leaving one patrol position in the town’s police department vacant, and opting out of making Town Building Inspector Dextor Monroe a full-time employee. The council also discussed implementing a three-percent decrease in spending in the town’s budget (to be determined by Town Manager Val Foulds), and a three-percent decrease in the town’s portion of additional school funding over the legal amount required by state law.
School officials were asked to return after a break for lunch. School Superintendant Kathleen Beane, Director of Finance J.D. Martin, and Director of Federal Programs Tracey Tunstall answered questions from the council during the afternoon portion of the meeting.
Discussions got a little heated, however, when Councilman Chiarello outlined his calculations to the school officials. “What we are trying to do is put a lot of stuff on the table so we have options. We’re just trying to point out to everyone to try to be realistic about things in this economy, and the way they are.”
Chiarello said, “Working the numbers, if the town cuts its budget by three percent, that’s $136,453. If the school board portion was cut by three percent, that would be $53,000. And then we would raise cigarette tax by five cents [per pack], that would be another $16,000. Lodging tax and meals tax would be another $85,000. We’re skipping over raising real estate property taxes. Not gonna touch the property taxes. We have a police position that’s not going to be filled, that’s another $32,000. Cut and freeze all bonus increases for the town, and that would be another $11,000. The building inspector (who is part-time), we were going to try to make him full-time, which only amounts to another $20,000. But with the above items, not including the inspector, we would be able to generate revenue in cuts that would amount to $334,000. We would be able to make the budget. That’s where we are at right now.”
The school officials had already endured a full line of questioning about their budget from council members, and expressed that they had cut their budget to the “bare bones”.
School Board Director of Finance, J.D. Martin responded, “When you say that we need to be realistic, we have already cut $459,000 from our budget, and you’re suggesting if we don’t make that figure $510,000, we’re ‘playing loose with money’? Really?”
Martin continued, “I’d like you to take a look at whether we have been realistic or not.”
Chiarello cut in, saying, “I’m not saying you’re playing loose with money. I’m just saying that you can’t reach into a pocket that’s empty. What do you do? You can’t keep reaching into a tax payer’s pocket.”
Chiarello went on to say that he doesn’t want to raise property taxes, and that he was going to challenge everybody to put something onto the table.
Martin replied, “We already did. We did it before this budget saw the light of day. We already went through the anguish and the hours, before we went to the school board, never mind before we came to you. There is nothing in there that isn’t essential. If you cut any more, you’re going to impact the quality of education!”
Superintendent Kathleen Beane said, “What we would be looking at now, is positions.” Beane stated that Art and Music are the only teaching positions to cut. The school has one of each, but needs two of each to teach at both schools.
Beane explained that the school could not cut Special Education or Math. She asked, “Who do we choose?”
Councilwoman Linda Brubaker asked why the school was giving a two-percent pay increase. Beane explained that all core-position increases are funded by the state. However, in order to receive that funding, all other non-core positions must be paid by local funds or the town loses the funding. Beane explained that turnover has risen each year, due to the lack of a pay increase over the last six years.
Brubaker ended her questioning of the school officials by saying, “We don’t have the authority to tell you how to spend the money. We only have the power to give you the money, or not. I have looked at all three of you and made a commitment to give you the money, I don’t see how we can back out on that, but I’m not committed to a real estate tax increase. So therefore, it’s up to this council to either renege, if you will, on the amount of money we said we were going to give you, or lower salaries and our expectations. But that’s really not your concern. If you say there is no money to cut in this budget, then I need to take you on your word.”
During a break, Mayor Ham said that the purpose of the meeting was to allow council members to give suggestions on how to cut spending, now and in the future. He admitted that no concrete decisions could be made until after the public hearing on June 19.
Council members, including Mayor Mike Ham and Gary Seeber, are looking for direction from concerned citizens, and are urging them to attend the public hearing on June 19, to have their voices heard. Citizens who are unable to attend may send a letter or an email to the town to voice their opinions. Citizens who send emails should include their name and address.