Budget Forecast Appears Dismal for Athens City Schools

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If figures related to weather, it’s not only raining, it’s pouring at the Athens City Schools District, according to the five-year forecast released by treasurer, Matt Bunting.

For the past three fiscal years, Athens has been in the hole with the highest deficit reaching more than $1 million in 2012. While the figure did improve over the last two fiscal years, it never gained positive ground. And, the trend is projected to continue up through fiscal year 2019, despite recent tax levies, which Athens County voters approved

“Obviously we have been spending more than we receive,” Bunting said. “The closing of Chauncey (Elementary School) helped to significantly reduce that problem, but did not eliminate it.”

Fiscal year 2014 ended with a deficit of more than $400,000 and fiscal year 2015 is projected to be slightly more than that. But by the time the district reaches fiscal year 2019, the district could be more than $7 million in debt.

Fiscal year 2009 has set the mark to judge the district’s finances. Since that year, there’s been a new funding system put in place every two years, Bunting explained, meaning the district has seen four significant changes in the past six years, with a fifth change potentially coming once the state budget is finalized next month.

And when it comes to the tax levies, Bunting said there are a few factors to consider.

“First, in Ohio, when a levy is passed, the tax rate is set to bring in the County Auditor’s estimate of revenue,” he said. “From that point forward, the levy can only bring in that amount plus any new construction annually. Each year thereafter, the rate is actually reduced so it does not bring in additional money for inflation.”

The district passed a fixed sum levy in 2004, Bunting said, which added $3.2 million each year until 2013 when voters approved an additional $500,000 to be added to it.

On top of that, the district passed an Earned Income tax of 1 percent in 2006, he added, which has been renewed at the same rate twice since then.

“As with all income taxes, that can go up or down depending on the economy,” Bunting said. “In 2010, as we presumably started to come out of the recession, the Income Tax was generating about $3.2 million of revenue. This year, 2015, we received about $3.7 million.”

Despite gaining $1 million dollars in revenue from the income tax and additional fixed sum levies, the district has lost around the same amount in state funding and increased community school deductions, he said.

“With those two items being a net near zero, our costs have increased for salaries, health insurance, utilities and fuel since 2009,” Bunting said to The Messenger. “We will be looking at all of the expenditure reducing items possible over the next year before we would consider asking for more than just a renewal of the local operating levies.”