West Deptford taxpayers were given advance warning two weeks ago about a decrease in tax ratables for the township. On Saturday, the numbers revealed a drop even steeper than the previous year.
The West Deptford Board of Education's budget work session on Saturday confirmed another huge drop in tax ratables—the number of taxable properties—in West Deptford. This year's decrease amounts to just over $188.1 million, an even larger decrease than last year's $172 million ratable decrease.
In that respect, Superintendent Kevin Kitchenman's presentation was similar to last year. He broke down a preliminary budget of $43.871 million for the 2013-14 school year. The figure is lower than the final budget the school board approved for 2012-13, which amounted to a $44.54 million budget.
However, the decrease in ratables will come back to hurt the taxpayers. Kitchenman's proposed $43.871 million budget means the tax rate increase would be 9.90¢ per $100 of assessed property value. That figure is more than double the tax rate increase
The reason for the tax rateable decrease is a large amount of businesses in West Deptford winning tax appeals in the past year, Kitchenman said.
Another item of concern that will remain an unknown until next week is how much the school district will receive in state aid. Business administrator William Thompson said the county superintendent's office told the school districts to budget as if the state aid figure for 2013-14 will remain the same as 2012-13.
However, Kitchenman noted that there could be a scenario where there's a decrease in state aid, which will put the school district in an even tighter position.
“There's definitely a doom and gloom scenario out there,” he said in reference to rumors about whether state aid will be cut.
There was a long discussion among the board on how the school district can generate other means of revenue, especially after two consecutive years of falling ratables. There was struggle to figure out how to not burden the taxpayers too much, while still continuing to provide a quality education in the school district.
“Where do we have to draw the line and say that our kids are worth the investment?” board President Christopher Strano said.
A concern among the school board was the lack of funds for capital projects, of which Kitchenman only had enough room for one in the 2013-14 budget. Originally, Kitchenman had hoped to include three capital projects: a restoration of the gym floor at Oakview Elementary School and new fire-alarm systems in both Oakview and Green-Fields Elementary schools. Prior to Saturday, Kitchenman said he had to nix both Oakview projects from the budget.
Some board members expressed concern about the safety of the school buildings, especially with a whole list of other capital projects needed during the next five years. In total, there was $2.7 million worth of capital improvements listed by Kitchenman for 2014-2017. It was agreed that all of the projects cannot be funded through the proposed budget as it stands.
“Taxes are going to go up, we're going to be scrutinized and our buildings are dilapidated,” Strano said. “We have to do something to upkeep these facilities.”
A key focus in the district in the next next year is improving education for at-risk students, Kitchenman said.
Some of the items in this year's budget are focused on helping the school district improve its scores in that area.
But, even in those departments, Kitchenman said he had to make some cuts of his own already to get the budget down to its current size.
“We crafted a budget to address (at-risk students).” he said. “We've already had to chip away at that.”
With the amount of state aid the school district is set to receive still up in the air and a desire to limit any tax increase, there will be many meetings and discussions next week before the board of education votes on a tentative budget.
The vote will take place at the March 4 school board meeting. That following Thursday, the tentative budget will be sent to the county superintendent. A final budget vote takes place at the March 25 board of education meeting. The public no longer votes to approve or reject the budget.