A State Of Denial

editorial-logo3We have been in a state of denial in Jefferson County for quite awhile and, now that we are being forced to pull our head out of the sand, the time has come for a realistic look at where we stand. The Department of Education presented a budget for the 2013-2014 fiscal year that has a nearly $3 million dollar deficit. It sounds like a lot of money. It is a lot of money. But, should we have expected this figure or something like it?  The Budget Committee has requested that the DOE return with nearly $1.5 million in cuts. I have to wonder if that request is truly possible. Here is what I see. There was a group of Commissioners that adamantly contended that the school building program would result in a property tax increase. I believe that they were right and that there is no way that a County can take on the kind of building program that we are undergoing without experiencing a property tax increase. We built the buildings and we incurred the operational costs associated the new buildings. The Commission allocated $500,000 for operational costs at the new freshman academy and Mount Horeb Elementary School but the operational costs at Mount Horeb were covered by the sales tax last year. Now two new schools are on line and the revenue lines are shorter than ever.

I would like to see the Budget Committee really look at the increases in this year’s budget, get a true fiscal picture and make a reasonable request for cuts. It seems to me that to get a true picture of the funding needs of the DOE, you would need to start with the amended budget for 2012-2013. Those are the real costs, not where you start the fiscal year but where you end it. Right off of the top of my head, I can think of more than $800,000 in amendments to this year’s budget. And then there are the costs that are just a part of living. Health Insurance increased more than 5% and that will cost the DOE over $600,000. So, when you add up just the operational costs, budget amendments that I can remember off of the top of my head and health insurance increases you come up with almost $2 million dollars. If we assume that only 20% of the DOE’s budget is subject to inflation then it will take around 130,000 for the same buying power in 2013-2014 as it did this fiscal year. When State mandated salary increases and 2% classified raises ( to match County raises) , as well other insurance increases, are added to the mix it looks as if the request that the budget committee made for cuts is off of the mark. $750,000 appears to be a more reasonable place to start and the DOE may not be able to click off the full quarter of a million dollars.

The Budget Committee has mentioned looking at changing health insurance or altering the County /employee contribution. Changing health insurance is never a quick fix and I just don’t see laying the costs for Commission choices on the shoulders of teachers and secretaries and teacher aids. These people are Jefferson Countians and we should try every avenue before destroying the personal finances of our own people. The Debt Service Fund is well overstuffed and it isn’t benefiting anyone. Finance Director Helton thinks that the Debt Service can cover around $1 million of the deficit.  If the DOE cuts $750,000 that would mean around a 10 cent tax increase.  That sounds like a lot of money to most people and I admit that it did to me as well…until I really looked at the numbers. Increasing taxes by a dime will cost a homeowner in the $100,000 range less than $40 a year. For those that have a home in the $150,000-$200,000 range it is around fifty bucks per year. I don’t know about you but I can spend $50 at Wal-Mart and don’t even know what I bought. The question comes down to this-Is it worth $50 a year for Jefferson County students to have two new schools and a completely renovated high school. Is it worth $50 per year to have football teams and baseball teams and band and honors classes and scholars bowl and Senior Play and no split grade classrooms and….the list goes on and on. Does the DOE need to be frugal with the money that it is given? Absolutely. And it should be held accountable, both academically and fiscally. But, sometimes things just are what they are and I think that this is one of those times. Yeah, Yeah, I know that energy costs were supposed to go down with the energy contracts. I think that this is a case of buying a pig in a poke and the Commission was hot to make the purchase. We would have been better off with a tarot card reading that might have clued us into the rising cost of living so we could have planned better. Now all that is left to do is put a little lip stick on that piggy and pucker up because I think that we can kiss the price of that contract good bye. Chalk it up to late night meetings, flip a dime in the kitty and call er done.

Source: K. Depew, News Director