SSISD planning budget in face of tax cuts

By FAITH HUFFMAN | News-Telegram News Editor

Aug. 1, 2007 - Sulphur Springs Independent School District property owners are scheduled to get a break on their taxes this year, and district financial officers are figuring out how to work the changes into next year's budget.

The upcoming budget was one of several matters addressed Monday night during a meeting of the SSISD Board of Trustees.

Overall, the first draft of the spending plan showed expenditures outpacing revenues for the upcoming fiscal year. However, Miki Eddins, director of finance, said those figures will change based on new estimates and figures, as well as requests by board members.

The budget shows a decline in local revenue dollars, reflecting state-mandated cuts in tax rates. That should be offset — more or less — by increases in state funding.

Last year, the property rate was to drop to $1.30 per $100 of property value. This year it has to drop to $0.99 or less, according to House Bill 1, passed two years ago. Local tax revenue is expected to fall from $12.5 million in 2006-2007 to just over $10 million in the coming school year.

Board member Don Sapaugh asked that the finance office, when presenting the next draft of the budget, prepare an explanation to accompany the information in each separate fund regarding any sizable increases or decreases.

In other business Monday, good service paid off for Baucom Insurance, as trustees decided to stay with the local firm for student accident insurance, even though their bid was not the lowest submitted.

The plan does, however, provide the same services as last year for $3,213 less.

Two comparable bids were received, one from Baucom and two from Baker. Baucom, which last year was awarded the contract for $53,769, submitted a bid for $50,556 this year. Baker’s comparable bid was for $46,981.

Eddins, the director of finance, recommended Baucom over Baker, however, noting that in the time the district has used the company, “I know we have had no complaints.

"They are a little higher, but I think they are worth it to have someone local and to know the service we are going to have," Eddins said.

The student accident insurance can be used in addition to or in place of personal accident insurance. It covers University Interscholastic League events, cheerleading, field trips and any other school activities, but no out of school activities.

Also during Monday night’s special called meeting, the board discussed and gave unanimous approval to enter into the "operational procedures agreement" offered through Region VII Education Service Center Board of Directors for "The Inter-Local Purchasing System" or "TIPS Employee Benefits Cooperative."

The program offers “additional services to our staff at a lower price,” school officials said. Included are insurance coverage for life, cancer or dreaded disease, dental, vision and disability.

The life insurance would be available at a cost 11 cents per $10,000, up to either $230,000 or five times the employee’s annual salary, as well as $50,000 for the employee’s spouse and $10,000 for a child..

The cancer policy would be virtually “guarantied” for all applicants, according to Neece, “as long as they have had no activity in the last 12 months.”

Those participating in the TIPS program would be able to access their information 24 hours a day, 7 days a week online.

Another service which could become available in the future through TIPS would be a 457 retirement plan, which could be used with or in place of a 403b plan. Some school districts use it as an incentive, putting in matching or a certain portion of funds for teachers who are vested after a certain number of years with the district.

Eddins noted the board would need to consider the 457 plan, as well as retention and recruitment efforts, and whether they wished to designate funds for the program beginning with the 2007-2008 budget, which takes affect Sept. 1.

The finance official also noted that while some areas of the budget, such as food service fund, on the first draft appear to be less than needed, they are not necessarily a true reflection of costs and funds. As an example, Eddins explained that the food service director plans to make some major equipment purchases this year, funds which actually will come from reserve money.

In other business Monday night, Superintendent Patsy Bolton updated board members on summer progress of the construction projects at the high school. Ceilings have been replaced, and walls straightened. Floor tiles have been put down in all classrooms and some halls. The pink tile in the lobby is expected to be taken out soon and replaced with tile to match the rest of the building. Crews lack only a little bit of work on the wall and floors from finishing up the cafeteria. The front entrance is to be repainted. The field house also has yet to be painted.

The science and fine arts additions were to be examined this week to determine whether they will be given the OK for occupancy. The band program is delaying its activities for another week while crews go over the “punch list” and make sure the building meets inspection standards.

Bolton said the two areas of concern for the district are the old band hall and science classrooms, which are being remodeled. The work crews continue to indicate to administrators they anticipate being finished with work on the remodeled science classrooms and old band hall by Aug. 27, the first day of classes.

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