Area districts to hold hearings for proposed budgets

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Over the next few weeks, area school districts will host public hearings for their 2013-14 proposed budget and tax rates.

Throughout August, the Argyle, Lake Dallas, Sanger, Aubrey and Ponder school districts will present finance projections for the new fiscal year, which begins Sept. 1. School boards will then consider adopting the budgets.

Argyle ISD

Argyle is the first of the five districts hosting a public hearing for its proposed budget and tax rate, at 6 p.m. Monday at 800 Eagle Drive. The school board will consider adopting the proposed budget and setting the tax rate at the same meeting.

District officials are projecting a $207,000 budget deficit to the general operating fund for 2013-14, according to documents. Operating expenses are expected to total $15.6 million, and the district intends to generate $15.4 million for the general fund.

Superintendent Telena Wright said that if needed, the district could dip into its reserves, which total more than $5 million, to absorb the budget shortfall.

If enrollment exceeds projections, she said, that would generate additional revenue. So, the district could save money if what’s budgeted for a particular expense is not entirely used, she said.

Among general fund expense additions are $1,200 pay increases for teachers and full-time librarians, counselors and school nurses, 3 percent raises for all other district employees, and substitute rate increases. The school board approved those raises in June.

Other expense increases include funds allocated for school security and salaries to reinstate 3.5 positions that were eliminated in 2011-12.

A $0.005 tax rate reduction is being proposed, said Liz Stewart, the district’s chief financial officer. The board will consider a tax rate of $1.47505 per $100 valuation. Stewart attributes the rate reduction to lower debt payments brought on by recent bond refinances.

Bond expense estimates total more than $4.1 million, and the district expects to generate slightly more revenue than it needs in that area, according to district documents.

Lake Dallas ISD

Lake Dallas school officials intend to propose a budget with a slight surplus at a public hearing slated for 5:30 p.m. Aug. 26 at 104 Swisher Road. School board members are expected to consider adopting only the budget at that meeting and will consider setting the tax rate at a later date, according to district officials.

Wes Eversole, the district’s deputy superintendent and chief financial officer, said general operating fund expenses are projected to total $31.4 million, with revenue generated for the fund topping $31.595 million. He said a majority of the estimated revenue is associated with a change in the state funding formula, resulting in a $1.3 million increase in state revenue for Lake Dallas.

Expenses for the upcoming fiscal year are $1 million more than expenses for the current fiscal year, Eversole said. A majority of the increased expenses are attributed to a $1,500 pay increase for employees on a step schedule and an approximate 3 percent raise for all other staff, approved by the school board earlier this summer. Other increased expenses were attributed to supplies and contracted services, he said.

Officials are proposing that the district’s tax rate — $1.67 per $100 valuation — remain the same, despite a projected deficit for the debt service fund.

A budget deficit of about $300,000 is projected for the fund, Eversole said. Debt service expenses are projected to total $7.98 million, and revenue generated is expected to total $6.772 million, Eversole said. He attributes the deficit to stagnant property values and said the district intends to dip into reserves to offset the shortfall.

Sanger ISD

The Sanger school district also projects a budget with surplus.

According to district documents, general operating fund expenses are estimated to total $19.3 million, while revenue generated for the fund is estimated at $19.679 million. Included in the budget is a 3 percent raise for all employees and substitute rate increases, approved by the school board in June.

The district will host a public hearing for the proposed budget and tax rate at 5 p.m. Aug. 28 at 601 Elm St. in Sanger.

District officials are proposing the $1.372067 tax rate remain the same.

A balanced budget is also projected for the district’s debt service fund, officials said. Expenses in that fund are projected to total $2.9 million.

Aubrey ISD

Aubrey interim Superintendent Debby Sanders said the proposed budget is still being developed and could be revised some before the public hearing slated for 6:30 p.m. Aug. 28 at 421 Tisdell Lane in Aubrey.

According to data provided by the school district last week, district leaders expect a balanced budget for its general operating fund with expenses totaling $14.679 million for 2013-14. Expense additions this year will include a 3 percent general pay increase for district employees, adjusted step raises, costs to establish a district police force and tutors, said James Monaco, the district’s chief financial officer.

“We’re proud to present a balanced budget and repay the people that have helped us for so long,” he said.

Monaco said officials are proposing that the tax rate be reduced by 3 cents per $100 valuation.

The district also expects a balanced budget for its debt service fund, with expenses estimated to total more than $3.2 million.

Ponder ISD

School officials in Ponder are projecting a budget deficit of about $400,000.

Superintendent Bruce Yeager said this is the first budget deficit to be proposed in his nine years with Ponder schools. He attributes the deficit to a decline in property values and stagnant enrollment.

General fund expenditures are projected to total $12.5 million, and the district is projecting to generate $12.1 million in revenue. Expenses include an average 1.5 percent pay increase for district employees, he said. The school district intends to absorb the deficit, Yeager said, with reserves it saved previously.

“When you have the good years, you prepare for these so they won’t be as disastrous, and that’s what we’ve done,” he said. “So we’re in good shape.”

Yeager said property values dropped by more than $79 million, a 10 percent decline. He said a large percentage of the district’s property values are in minerals and natural gas production, and the price for both has declined. This year, minerals account for a little less than 50 percent of the district’s property values but in previous years it had been as much as 70 percent.

A 3-cent tax rate increase is being proposed, which would take the tax rate to about $1.38 per $100 valuation, Yeager said.

The rate increase will support debt service expenses, he said. Without it, the district would come up about 3 percent short of the necessary money to pay the projected $2.38 million in bond expenses for the year, Yeager said.

The district passed its last bond referendum in 2007, he said, and since then the school district’s tax rate has been below the rate advertised to support the bond. The proposed tax rate for 2013-14 would bring the district to the tax rate advertised in 2007, he said.

The Ponder school district public hearing is slated for 6:30 p.m. Aug. 29 in the Ponder ISD boardroom at 400 W. Bailey St. The school board will consider adopting the proposed budget and setting the tax rate at the same meeting, Yeager said.

BRITNEY TABOR can be reached at 940-566-6876 and via Twitter at @BritneyTabor.

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