Higher-than-expected property value, state aid decreases tax rate 4.8%
After learning last month that they should expect no increase in the tax rate to support spending in the Grafton School District’s 2014-15 budget, property owners received even better news this week.
On Monday, the School Board approved a final budget that calls for a 4.8% decrease in the equalized tax rate, along with a corresponding reduction in the total levy.
In a presentation to the board, Director of Business Services Kristin Sobocinski said the rate decrease, from $12.03 to $11.45 per $1,000 of equalized valuation, is due primarily to a larger-than-expected increase in district-wide property value.
Although the budget approved by the board following the annual meeting Sept. 22 included an estimated valuation of $1.43 billion, the final figure certified by the state was 3.2% higher, at $1.48 billion. That helped lower the tax rate, as did several other adjustments in revenues and expenditures, Sobocinski said.
The total levy of $16,961,871 certified by the board Monday is 1.8% lower than the 2013-14 total.
“This is primarily due to higher-than-anticipated general equalization aid,” Sobocinski said. The district will receive $5.2 million in aid, $241,000 more than it did for the 2013-14 year, she noted.
The final budget also includes adjustments in other categories, among them open-enrollment revenue and expenses, salary and benefits for new staff members and rate increases for health and dental insurance coverage.
The budget calls for a projected fund balance of $3.76 million, up $78,823 from the previous year. The new fund balance is 16% of $22.7 million in total revenue, comparable to recent years, Sobocinski said.
Supt. Mel Lightner said the tax savings is welcome news for residents, but he cautioned that the district will continue to face serious fiscal challenges in coming years.
“For taxpayers, it’s nice to see that the mill rate will go down, but we have no idea where it will go next year,” Lightner said.
“We still have some tremendous needs in our district,” he said. “We have an OK fund balance that’s not too low or too high.”
The fund balance gives the district a fiscal security blanket, with flexibility to cover projects as they arise, including school security upgrades.
“I think we have some wiggle room there, but it’s not a rainy-day fund,” Lightner said.
Grafton, like other school districts, will not know the potential impact on future spending plans until the state finalizes its 2015-17 budget, Lightner said.