$5.5 million Oysterponds budget set for vote

03/26/2014 12:25 PM |

Oysterponds Superintendent Richard Malone at Tuesday’s meeting. (Credit: Paul Squire)

The Oysterponds school board on Tuesday approved putting a proposed $5.5 million budget for the 2014-15 school year up for vote in May, along with two propositions.

If approved by voters, the proposed budget would increase the district’s tax levy — the total money collected by district taxpayers — by 1.93 percent, keeping it under the state-mandated 2 percent tax levy cap. 

Superintendent Richard Malone said the budget was “fine-tuned” and has its expenses filed under the proper budget lines to use funds more efficiently.

“Generally, I feel the budget is in very good shape,” Mr. Malone said. “It’s going to provide us with everything we need to operate the programs that we have here.”

The board also authorized two propositions: one that seeks to set up a capital fund budget line and another that would pull $150,000 from its reserves for window upgrades.

Once placed into a capital fund line, money must be spent on building upgrades or repairs. Any leftover money not spent on upgrades would have to be given back to taxpayers and taxpayers would have to approve any project that would take money out of the capital fund.

A similar proposition to set up a capital fund failed last year by 12 votes.

School board members said the dedicated fund and window repair project would help reduce the school’s overabundance of reserves while addressing repairs at the school.

Mr. Malone said the district now has about $734,000 in its “general fund balance,” a collection of money left over from previous school budgets. But he said auditors and state education officials prefer districts to maintain a lower fund balance — somewhere closer to $200,000 for a district of Oysterponds’ size.

Mr. Malone told the board he believes the state education department might withhold state aid if they see Oysterponds operating with a high balance.

“We can’t keep this,” he said. “It’s making us vulnerable.”

The board’s approved budget itself would take $200,000 out of their $734,000 stockpile; Mr. Malone said $150,000 of that would go toward window upgrades at the school if the budget is approved, while $50,000 will be used to offset tax increases.

A separate ballot proposition would allow the district to take an additional $150,000 from the general fund to pay for more window repairs. If the capital line proposition — which is separate from the windows proposition — is approved, the board could pull up to an additional $250,000 from the balance.

Though the board voted unanimously to adopt the budget and both ballot propositions, board member Linda Goldsmith expressed concern about propositions to spend $150,000 on window repairs and to set up the capital reserve fund. She said she wanted additional oversight on school repair projects and suggested the board hire a clerk to supervise the window upgrades.

Ms. Goldsmith said the board discussed hiring an employee to oversee the window project in an executive session but never hired anyone.

“I will vote for [the propositions] because I think the budget is solid, but I do want it noted that I have some concerns,” Ms. Goldsmith said.

Board president Dorothy-Dean Thomas said the board could still hire oversight once the proposition is approved.

The budget and both propositions will be voted on at the May 20 district vote.

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