Friday, June 17, 2011

District approves $76.2M budget

No public comment given at Tuesday budget hearing

Express Staff Writer

With little fanfare, the Blaine County School District board of trustees unanimously approved a $76.2 million budget for the coming fiscal year.

Approval was granted at a Tuesday school board meeting that started with an official public hearing on the budget. There was no public comment.

The only issue raised prior to the vote was by Trustee Kathryn Graves, who wanted to know whether an increase in operating expenses for the coming year was eating into a surplus fund the district has set aside from a permanent tax levy. Graves specifically mentioned a 2 percent pay increase and additional costs for benefits granted to district employees this year

"That should be for emergencies and that's something we should be looking at next year," Graves said.

The school district currently has about $13 million set aside in the surplus fund. It has been accumulated through a permanent $29.5 million annual property tax levy, referred to as a stabilization levy, that was granted to the district in 2006 when the Idaho Legislature shifted the bulk of school funding from property to sales taxes.

District Business Manager Mike Chatterton explained that increased operating expenses will eventually erode the surplus, but he now projects the funds will last until the year 2015. He noted that district employees went two years without salary increases and that the increase this year was only 2 percent, rather than about 4 percent as had been typically granted prior to 2008.

"Since those costs have slowed down, the date of when we're out is going to be further and further away," Chatterton said.

District Superintendent Lonnie Barber said the district is better off financially than many school districts in Idaho and has thus far been able to absorb state and federal funding cuts.

"We have been one of the few school districts that had a general fund to prevent things such as furloughs," Barber said.

The new budget will go into effect at the start of fiscal year 2012 on July 1. The budget allocates $55.6 million for operating expenses and is slightly down from the fiscal year 2011 general fund allocation of $55.7 million.

The remainder of the fiscal year 2012 budget is for construction and facility improvements, as well as various state and federal programs.

Terry Smith:

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