Budget for Berkeley Co. schools will have $1,059,202 less in excess levy money

Superintendent says, 'You don't spend, and you don't replace retirees, and you do without'

March 25, 2011|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD |

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — The budget for Berkeley County schools for the upcoming 2011-12 fiscal year will be even tighter than last year because of another loss of  tax revenue from the continued decline in property values, school officials said this week.

The school district will have to budget for next year with $1,059,202 less in excess tax levy money, which is now down by a little over $2.5 million in the last two years, according to figures schools Superintendent Manny P. Arvon released Monday.

Arvon said he has cut six administrative positions as a result of the decreased revenue.

"You don't spend, and you don't replace retirees, and you do without," Arvon said of the district's deepening budget constraints.

The school district was seeing an increase of about $1.5 million to $2 million in excess levy money each year until the recession, Arvon said.

The economic downturn triggered what Arvon said amounted to a $6 million revenue "swing" in the other direction.

"We were living fat, and the rat stole the cheese," Arvon said.

While regular and excess levy rates will remain unchanged, the school district has to increase the rate for its 2002 and 2010 school construction bond issues to collect enough money to make required debt-service payments, Arvon said.

As a result, the owner of a home worth $200,000 could see an increase of $8.88 in taxes because of the debt-service levy rate hike, according to the tax information Arvon released.

Arvon, who expects to see another drop in assessed values next year, said at some point in the future the school district will be at a "crossroad" if there isn't an uptick in the economy.

For the current school year, which ends June 30, Arvon said the district used money carried over from the 2009-10 fiscal year.

"It really scares me ... you can't balance budgets on carry-over because you run out," Arvon said.

In addition to the drop in excess levy funds, Arvon said the school district also had to respond this fiscal year to a substantial drop in state funding for growth-related needs.  

An added strain for the school district is a state requirement that money be budgeted for certain "other" employee benefits, including school personnel whose salaries are not provided for in the state's school aid formula.

 Arvon said the school district's "biggest concern" is the lack of funding in the state funding formula to help the county serve special needs students.

"We're in a favorable position compared to districts around us in Maryland and Virginia areas, but still we're in a position where we don't want to be when you consider ...  (the possibility of lower) assessments over the next couple years," Arvon said.

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