U-CF approves 2013-14 budget

sweigel@21st-centurymedia.com

School taxes will increase for residents of Chester and Delaware County in the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District next year.

The school board voted 6-1 on Monday night to accept the 2013-14 school year budget of $72,532,905.

Board member Keith Knauss cast the dissenting vote.

The budget calls for a 2.02 percent increase in the tax rates for Chester County to 25.73 percent, and a 1.26 percent increase for Delaware County, to 21.71 mills.

A mill is a tax of $1 per $1,000 of assessed real estate value.

That means for a home valued at $300,000 in Chester County, homeowners will pay roughly $7,700 in property taxes. In Delaware County, a similarly valued home comes with a tax bill of roughly $6,500.

According to Knauss, the budget calls for $115,000 to be used from the district’s general fund to offset expenditures — a move, he said, has cost taxpayers more than $4 million in the past four years.

Conservative estimating, he said, has built up over the years to increase the district’s bank account.

“We won’t really know how much we will spend and collect until the fiscal year ends over a year from now,” Knauss said.

Knauss said that since the 2010 school year, the district has added $4.5 million to its coffers via the overestimation of expenditures, with $2.3 added in 2011-12 and another $500,000 projected for 2012-13.

“There’s a pattern here,” Knauss said. “It would be nice of us to return some or all of that surplus back to the taxpayer. We don’t need it, we’re far above the level needed to compensate for unfavorable financial surprises.”

With the 2013-14 budget cycle, Knauss said that despite the $115,000 used to offset additional increases, it is “highly unlikely” that the district would be returning any of that $4.5 million to the residents.

“Odd are, instead of reducing our bank account balance by $115,000, we’ll again increase it by another $1 million,” Knauss said. “Why? We repeatedly and consciously overestimate expenditures, slightly underestimate revenues and overtax our residents.”

He added that while conservative budgeting is usually a good idea, it is antithetical in an attempt to restrain the district’s bank account.

Knauss said that until the board changes its budgeting behavior, the district’s bank account will continue to inflate.

“We need to do the opposite for a few years,” he said. “Construct a budget that deficit spends and judiciously under taxes so as to slowly return that $4.5 million.”

Board member Victor Dupuis said that while Knauss’s proposal makes sense, certain expenditure increases, such as the Pennsylvania School Employee Retirement System, were unaccounted for during surplus years.

“The rates of increase on (retirement system) contributions ate into most of the surpluses, which is why the actual surpluses we have today are not substantially different than where they were five years ago,” Dupuis said. “They’re higher because our overall budget is higher. But in terms of raw dollar amounts, they’re not that much higher.”

He said the surpluses have worked to their advantage, noting the financial crises that led the Kennett Consolidated School District to outsource its paraprofessional and support staff is an example of what happens without conservative budgeting.

“I think we’re being prudent. I think 2 percent is a number that our taxpayers can live with,” he said.

The budget is available for review on the district’s website at www.ucfsd.org.

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