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Health Insurance, Capital Projects Drive School Budget Increase

The district is proposing a budget that increases taxes by $557,996 this year.

Faced with rising health insurance costs and a pair of immediate needs in the district’s capital improvement plan, the West Deptford school district is proposing a budget that goes right up to the maximum 2-percent tax increase, Superintendent Kevin Kitchenman said at a school board budget workshop Saturday.

The proposed increase in the tax levy is up $557,996 from last year, which represents a 3.83-cent increase on the tax rate, based on the old average property assessment of $117,549.

While it’s an increase, it’s the lowest increase–discounting a pair of tax decreases–in the last 12 years, and thanks to the new assessment just completed by Appraisal Systems, Inc. (ASI), which puts the average property value at $208,179, Kitchenman said that rate increase is higher than it will end up, though he’s not sure where it’ll fall just yet.

“It’s only going to go down,” he said. “That 3.83 (cents) is the highest it’s going to be.”

Kitchenman said he could get the final numbers as early as today, but didn’t want to speculate about how far below that 3.83-cent rate increase it might be. He did note that, based on the previous assessment, the increase amounts to about a $45 increase in taxes for the average property owner.

Under ASI’s revaluation, the total tax rate in West Deptford would decrease from $4.397 to $2.35 this year. Under the old tax rate, the school budget took up $2.004, or 45.58 percent of the total tax rate.

While the budget isn’t finalized–ongoing teacher negotiations could affect salary increases, for instance–the increase is being driven, at least in part, by a health insurance bill projected to rise eight percent in the last half of 2011 and 12 percent in the first half of 2012, and $501,000 in capital improvements at the high school.

The district will get $267,000 from employees contributing 1.5 percent of their salaries toward health insurance, but premiums will cost the district $390,000 beyond that, according to business administrator William Thompson.

On the capital improvement side, Kitchenman said the district need to tackle replacing the high school tennis courts and the visitor’s stands at the high school football field.

The tennis courts need to be completely rebuilt, from the old fencing surrounding the courts to the playing surface, which is zigzagged with cracks.

The visitor’s stands are actually two sets of rusting, pitted bleachers, chained together at the back, sitting atop a set of concrete blocks. What handrails there are don’t extend beyond the top few rows, and there’s no handicap access anywhere. Since they’re two separate sections of bleachers, misalignments make for a series of gaps and steps at the spot where they join in the center.

“We believe they’re at the breaking point,” Kitchenman said, adding that the district got several letters of complaint in 2010 about the condition of the visitor’s stands.

Board member Ginny Brockway asked if the stands, which will cost about $140,000, are a must-have, or if the high school could move visiting fans to the home side, which is in better shape and has handicap access.

Board president Jim Mehaffey, the township’s former police chief, said that with just four police officers working at the game, it would be a bad idea from a security standpoint.

“You don’t want to mix crowds,” he said.

Mehaffey also underscored Kitchenman’s remark about the letters of complaint.

“We know they’re a problem—if we don’t address that situation, we’re being neglectful,” he said.

Kitchenman also noted that it’s not just the four or five regular-season home games the district has to consider when factoring the cost of new visitor’s stands; it’s also potential playoff games and the annual marching band cavalcade, which brought in about 15 bands last year, all of which fill, and in some cases overflow, the current capacity of both the home and visitor’s side.

“Friday night lights at West Deptford High School is a big event,” he said.

Year Tax rate increase (cents) 1999-2000 10.5 2000-2001 12.9 2001-2002 9.9 2002-2003 6.9 2003-2004 12.6 2004-2005 6.6 2005-2006 6.2 2006-2007 9.9 2007-2008 5.1 2008-2009 -0.274 2009-2010 -0.107 2010-2011 (original) 18.5 2010-2011 (amended) 12 2011-2012 (proposed) -0.91*

*based on the 2011 revaluation.

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