Revenue hits make for challenges on UCF budget

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Wide range of options, opinions on approach for 2012-13 budget

By Mike McGann, Editor, UnionvilleTimes.com
EAST MARLBOROUGH — Although the economy in general has shown signs of life in recent months, the last few months in the Unionville area — especially when it comes to real estate transactions — have been so weak, that Unionville-Chadds Ford School District officials find themselves with a bigger revenue hole than expected and a tough choice: raise taxes above the state’s Act 1 index or slash spending again.

One option appears to be off the table: taking the budget to a voter referendum next April.

Although final adoption of the budget won’t happen until June, 2012, and will be impacted by various other outside factors, including the state budget, at this point it appears that the tax increase in Chester County will be somewhere between the 1.7% state limit and 3.89% (because of differences in the overall county property values, the tax rate for Delaware County is expected to actually decline).

Superintendent of Schools Dr. John Sanville introduced a proposed preliminary budget Monday night — what he termed a “maintenance budget” — a 2012-13 budget that neither cuts nor expands program or staff. And while such a budget would, as recently as September, fit in under the Act 1 limits, (at least for the Chester County portion of the district) the collection of transfer and interim taxes has been so low since then, that the budget is more than $700,000 over that number.

The Board of Education does have options — and choices — to make over the coming months, starting in January. According to the district’s Director of Business and Operations, Robert Cochran, the district can apply to the state Department of Education for an exception to the Act 1 limit relating to pension expenses of $632,338. Assuming that exception is granted, that leaves a hole of about $75,000, which district officials said they felt could be found.

And while there was general agreement among the board on two issues, finding the $75,000 in cuts to bypass a referendum and seeking the pension exception, there appears to be a wide spectrum of opinion as to where to proceed from there.

Member Keith Knauss asked for the administration to prepare tiered cuts, as has been done in the last two year processes, to enable cuts to allow the increase to fall below the Act 1 index. But member Gregg Lindner asked for a list of the staff and program cuts made over the last two years so the board could better assess the impact of cuts to date before seeking additional ones. Such a list has been prepared, but was not released, pending administrative review.

Other members expressed some reservations about rushing to make more cuts, while others expressed hope that the exception wouldn’t be needed.

“I’m in agreement that a maintenance budget is a goal,” Kathleen Do said. “We’ve had a lot of cuts over the last two years, had a lot of hardship and it’s been difficult on the district and on the staff for the last year.”

“Our goal should be not to use it,” member Jeff Hellrung said of the exception. “But it might be debilitating (to the district) not to use it.”

But with the state funding numbers still an unknown, even if the tax hike remains in the upper range — assuming the pension exemption is approved — cuts may still be needed as the process unwinds during the spring of 2012.

“When push comes to shove, we’re going to have to make some tough decisions about exemptions,” member Victor DuPuis said.

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