Consensus: No Worthington school levy needed until at least 2017
The school district's five-year financial forecast was unveiled Oct. 28. As expected, the news was good.
The news was so good that even most board members are predicting that a new operating levy wouldn't be necessary until at least 2017, two years later than was projected during the campaign for the successful 2012 levy.
"This forecast looks better and better and better, and we're unaccustomed to that," board member Julie Keegan said during the budget discussion.
The forecast shows a nearly $34 million fund balance at the end of 2017. If the Ohio legislature continues with its hold on phasing out the tangible personal property (TPP) tax, the balance will be more than $50 million.
The board decided on the size of the 2012 levy based on treasurer Jeff McCuen's assumption that the TPP would continue to be phased out, costing the district $2.2 million a year.
Instead, lawmakers halted the phase-out beginning this year.
The forecast shows revenue from the TPP tax in a contingency fund, increasing to nearly $20 million in 2018.
Board member Marc Schare said state Rep. Mike Duffey (R-Worthington) checked with legislative leaders, who said no lawmakers are talking about reinstating the phase-out.
The state did away with TPP taxes in 2002. Worthington was hit harder than most districts because of its reliance on TPP revenues from Anheuser-Busch.
To keep districts such as Worthington from financial disaster, state legislators agreed to phase in the tax revenue loss. Now the phase-in has been halted, as least for the time being.
The state also increased basic aid to Worthington by 6.25 percent in 2014 and 10.5 percent in 2015. The forecast shows the 2015 state aid remaining the same through 2018.
The forecast shows expenditures increasing from $113.7 million at the end of fiscal year 2013 to $136.3 million at the end of 2018.
That assumes a 1-percent increase in base pay for teachers, plus step increases.
Health insurance costs are projected to increase at a lesser rate than projected last year. Instead of increasing 13 percent this year, they increased 3.55 percent.
Both salaries and insurance costs are increasing less than in former years because of record numbers of retirements, said T.J. Cusick, who presented the forecast Monday in place of McCuen, who is recovering from an accident.
Fifty-two teachers retired last year alone. Cusick said he did not build into the forecast that rate of retirements continuing.
Cusick agreed that the forecast shows no levy needed until 2017. The timing in 2017 will be a recommendation left up to McCuen, he said.
Schare said it would be at least 2017 until a levy is needed, possibly later, because of the conservative numbers in the forecast.
When discussing the size of the 2012 budget, Schare had encouraged the district to go with a lower amount than eventually was agreed upon. The three-year incremental level is being collected at 4.9 mills in 2013, 5.9 mills in 2014 and 6.9 mills in 2015.
"We appear to have overtaxed the people of Worthington in the 2012 levy cycle," Schare said.
Board president David Bressman said he remains skeptical of promising voters that no levy would be needed until 2017.
"I don't believe the forecast adequately addresses risks," he said.
The district does not yet know the costs that will be associated with programs like the third-grade reading guarantee, the new teacher evaluation system or the Common Core curriculum, he said.