The city may snatch $2.5 million or more from its rainy day fund this year to provide cash to keep the schools and City Hall operating smoothly without raising property taxes.
Finance Chairman Rich Miecznikowski said Wednesday that he supports using $2.5 million from the $17 million emergency fund to cover some of the spending that education and general government officials say they need.
He said he would tap $1.9 million for the schools and another $600,000 for city departments.
The Board of Education’s proposed $104.6 million spending plan requires $3.7 million in additional funding over this year’s level in order to maintain existing programs.
But with state aid level and city officials determined to hold the line on property taxes, it’s tough to see where all the money sought by the schools will come from.
Ron Messier, a finance board member who typically backs school spending requests to the hilt, said he doesn’t want to see property taxes rise by more than a quarter of a mill, a tiny increase.
Even that is probably not going to happen, though, because Mayor Art Ward and a number of other decision-makers, including Miecznikowski, have said they want to freeze property tax rates this year.
Messier said he supports taking cash out of the rainy day fund, but expressed astonishment that Miecznikowski was ready to use so much.
Miecznikowski said he hopes to hold the line on spending enough to keep taxes down without forcing layoffs.
Ward said he also aims to avoid layoffs, which would only exacerbate the struggling economy and crimp the city’s ability to carry out the work required.
School officials are searching for ways to stretch their dollars in the coming year.
Tom O’Brien, who heads the finance committee of the school board, said that negotiations are underway with every school employee union.
They are looking for ways to reduce costs and perhaps come up with an early retirement plan that might help as well.
The unions are open to ideas, O’Brien said, and something may come of it.
One possible avenue is to find ways to get more employees to give up their health insurance, perhaps by offering them cash to stay out of the plan, officials said. There are a number of workers who are married to someone who has insurance and double up merely to save on co-pays and the like.
O’Brien said the schools are also discussing the possibility of having retired school workers pay a portion of their health care costs, a policy change that might have an impact at City Hall, too.
The proposed school budget consists mostly of salaries, which make up 78 percent of the total tab. Salaries and benefits are going to rise $2.5 million in the next fiscal year, if the budget remains in place.
The only other significant increases over this year’s totals are in special education and transporting special education students, mandated items that are slated to go up by $2 million.
The rest of the school budget is actually slated to decrease by $760,000, due in large part to declining energy bills. But supplies and textbooks are also going to take a hit in the proposed spending plan.
At a hearing on the plan Wednesday, officials outlined the school system’s success in terms of test scores and graduation rates. They said they want to keep the current programs intact so they can build on that success.
Here is a link to a PDF of the proposed school budget.
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