District makes budget pitch: Instead of set figure, school board asks for percentage

Posted: Sunday, January 16, 2011

To lessen the blow of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District's budget request to the borough for the 2011-2012 academic year, the district's board of education passed a resolution asking for a minimum funding level at its meeting Monday night.

The board is hoping the Kenai Peninsula Borough will fund the district to a level that would be equivalent to 2.6 mill rate of the borough's real and property tax plus sales tax revenues. The Borough's mill rate for property taxes is 4.5, meaning $4.50 of tax on every $1,000 of assessed property value.

School Board President Joe Arness said 2.6 mills plus the sale tax revenue will get the district in the ballpark of the funding it got from the borough last year, which was about $42 million.

But the budget resolution approved unanimously by the school board eschewed any specific dollar amount.

"I'd like to see the initial conversation be based upon something other than the big dollars, based upon here's the impact that we are proposing to have on the community next year," Arness said.

He said that by using a mill rate that way the school board's budget is tied to what the local economy looks like and is more responsible to what's going on in the community.

"The borough told us that the assessed value would be less this year than it was last year," Arness said.

He said the borough's taxable property value for this year should be released this spring.

"If we have an assembly and a mayor who want to reduce the local tax levies than that's fine but let's have that conversation now rather than in April" Arness said. "And if they decide that we can't have 2.6 mills, we can only have 2.2, they can decide that now."

By creating a budget request earlier in the game, Arness said, it could simplify things for both the borough and the school district.

"We're already planning our budget for next year. It's hard to do without having a knowledge of how much money we're going to have to spend," he said.

Also, the school district always runs into the question of hiring employees for the next academic year, he said.

"We need to be signing contracts next month that start on the first of July. We can't do that until we know our sources of funding, where they're coming from and how much they're going to be," Arness said. "We're just trying to get ahead of that."

School board member Sammy Crawford, of Kalifornsky Beach, said this resolution for the school board basing funding from the borough on the tax levy is a new strategy for the district, and is not being done anywhere else in the state.

"I'm excited that we're coming up with something that will help us come ahead with a clearer budget so that we can have some timelines that work better for us," she said.

The resolution from the board was born out of a joint work session between the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly and School Board two months ago, Arness said.

The two bodies were looking for ways to alleviate conflict during the Borough's upcoming budget cycle.

Brielle Schaeffer can be reached at brielle.schaeffer@peninsulaclarion.com.

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