School board ponders tax hike

By on May 2, 2018

Ready to go with balanced 2018-19 budget, board worries about projected $1.25 million deficit in 2019-20

By Laura Knowles

Though it has a balanced budget prepared for 2018-19, the Warwick School Board faces a conundrum.

Yes, a balanced spending plan would please most taxpayers, especially retirees on fixed incomes.

However, board members noted it’s not quite so easy during discussions at the May 1 committee of the whole meeting.

“It would be great to have no tax increase for me personally,” said board member Nelson Peters, a retiree on a fixed income. “But we also need to be forward-thinking.”

While the 2018-19 proposed budget is balanced at $72,986,376 — with the same amount of revenue as expenses — Peters noted the anticipated budget for 2019-20 has a projected deficit of $1,249,683.

Peters and several other board members were leaning toward a tax increase that would be used to offset the impending deficit.

Nathan Wertsch, chief financial officer, said a .25 percent increase in taxes would provide $100,000 revenue toward the school district’s capital reserves, with an estimated taxpayer impact of just $7.83 for a median property owner.

He said a .50 percent increase would yield $200,000 revenue and impact a median taxpayer by $15.66. A 1.00 percent increase would yield $400,000 with a $31.32 impact on median taxpayers.

Several board members leaned toward a 1.5 percent increase, yielding $600,000 in reserves and impacting median taxpayers by $46.98. A 2.0 percent increase would yield $800,000 and impact median taxpayers by $62.64.

Based on January 2018 taxable accessed values of $2,047,620,000, the median assessed value is $148,000 and the increase at the 2.8 percent index is $87.69.

With school renovation projects looming in the future and anticipated increases in everything from transportation to teachers to insurance, it was suggested that the board take measures to offset increases that could be more drastic in the future. There will also be anticipated costs to cover borrowing debt.

School board member Ben Sahd did not agree with that rationale.

“We need to find a way to balance the budget without raising taxes,” said Sahd, urging the school board to look at ways to give taxpayers a zero tax increase for 2018-19. “Please, let’s try to work on this. I want to see us give that benefit back to the taxpayers.”

School board member Leslie Penkunas shared Sahd’s views, adding that taxpayers had been promised that the Warwick School District’s Feasibility Study for its school upgrades would not increase taxes.

“I think it’s short-sighted,” said board member Millard Eppig who suggested the 1.50 percent tax increase in order to build up the capital reserve fund to cover future school upgrades.

The board will continue to discuss the budget and its impact on taxpayers. Wertsch presented the proposed final budget to the committee of the whole and the Finance and Legal Committee. On May 15, the school board will be adopting the proposed final budget. May 30 is the deadline for the proposed final budget to be available for public review.

The final budget presentation is set for the June 5 committee of the whole meeting, with the deadline to publish intent to adopt the final budget on June 9, and adoption of the final budget set for the June 19 school board meeting. The public is encouraged to attend all of these meetings to express their views on the budget.

The public is also invited to attend the Public Forum on the Warwick School District’s Feasibility Study on May 22. The Public Forum will continue discussion on the future of the Warwick School District’s six schools as the district moves into 21st Century Learning.

In October of 2017, a Public Forum was held to discuss the district’s feasibility study. At that time, there were six options presented by RLPS Architects to the public, with two calling for at least one school to be closed and another proposing school closings and new construction. Based on negative input regarding school closings, two of the options were taken off the table.

In February, RLPS had narrowed it down to four options, with one calling for only general updates to the district’s six schools and one calling for closure of one school. At that time, the school board requested continued study of two of the options, each involving some reconfiguration of the school uses.

Erin Hoffman of RLPS was back at the May 1 committee of the whole meeting to outline costs associated with a baseline option and plans A and B. In the baseline option, school uses would remain the same, with elementary schools for K through 6, middle school for the 7th and 8th grade, and high school for grades 9 through12.  Major renovations would include areas that were not renovated in the last major project which took place in 2002, such as updating windows, doors, finishings around the schools, mechanical systems, electrical work, plumbing and fire protection. Soft costs would depend on implementation of furniture and equipment for educational programs, like upgrading to 21st-century learning environments. The construction totals for this option would be $52,280,444.

Option A involves providing for Pre K and Kindergarten, two elementary schools for grades 1 through 4, an intermediate school for grades 5 and 6, middle school for grades 7 and 8 and high school would remain for grades 9 through 12. Kissel Hill would serve as the primary center housing Pre-K and Kindergarten, John Beck would still serve as an elementary school as well as Lititz Elementary. Bonfield would then become the intermediate school. This option would allow the district to keep all buildings, but only reconfigure the grades. Estimated construction costs would be $71,167,689.

The $71,167,689 construction cost would be the same for Option B. The difference would be the reconfiguration of the schools. Pre K would be added to three elementary schools, making Kissel Hill, Lititz Elementary and John Beck, grades Pre K through 4th. Bonfield would become an intermediate school for grades 5 and 6. The middle school would remain 7 and 8, with high school continuing to be 9 through 12.

Hoffman discussed some of the renovations needed at all the schools, including upgrades to mechanical and electrical systems, replacement of worn finishes and renovations not done in 2002. The high school was in the most need up upgrades, especially in the athletic department. She also presented an outline of possible renovations to the field house and athletic fields. The only school that will not need upgrades is the newest, the Warwick Middle School.

The feasibility study is intended to take the Warwick School District through the next 10 years, from 2018 to 2028. The public is invited to attend the May 22 Public Forum to provide community input.

Laura Knowles is a freelance feature writer and regular contributor to the Record Express. She can be reached at lknowles21@gmail.com.

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