Budget woes easing for Eagle County School District | VailDaily.com

Budget woes easing for Eagle County School District

EAGLE — After years of shrinking revenues and budget cuts, the school district has $1.8 million more to work with next year.

The school board is expected to approve next year’s budget during its Wednesday evening meeting. The package includes $1.8 million more in the general fund — the checkbook by which the school district conducts it day-to-day business.

“The worst is behind us,” said Phil Onofrio, the school district’s chief financial officer.

If happy days truly are here again, then the district will start putting positions and programs back in that fell to the budget axe, but it’ll take some time, Onofrio said.

“From our point of view, things are looking up. It’s getting better,” Onofrio said.

The 2013-14 budget forecasts a 2.7 percent increase in funding. That’s based on state funding increases of $179 per student, and 76 more students, Onofrio said.

Students numbers are calculated by the number of incoming kindergarten students.

The district expects to hire two or three more full-time employees and a few additional special education employees. Two of those full-time staffers will be in the central district office’s curriculum department with Heather Eberts, the school district’s curriculum director.

New this year is a $45 an hour charge to private organizations to use school facilities.

$7 million savings

By state law, the school district budget has to be approved by the end of May. That’s why it doesn’t reflect the savings taxpayers will enjoy when the school district finishes refinancing its bond debt this summer, Onofrio said.

In 2006, Eagle County voters approved $128.3 million in bond debt to build and renovate schools and facilities.

Taxpayers will save $7 million when the bonds are refinanced at a lower interest rate, down from the original 4.5 percent to 2.5 percent. The $7 million savings will accrue through 2026.

Then there’s the decrease in property values, down 18 percent from 2010, according to the Eagle County assessor’s office.

That means a slightly smaller property tax bill for Eagle County property owners.

Schools are funded largely through property taxes. Because of those lower property values, the school district is collecting 25 percent less property taxes now than in 2010, according to data from the Eagle County treasurer’s office.

The difference is made up by the state government’s equalization school finance formula.

Property taxes directly fund three school district funds: the general fund, transportation fund and the bond fund. Total taxes for all three funds peaked at $63.5 million in 2009-10.

The highest revenue year for the school district’s general fund was $55.7 million in 2010.

The property tax rates are set by law, and they’re at their maximum. The school district cannot raise property taxes without voter approval, a request Eagle County voters shot down in 2011.

According to Eagle County’s financial data, the school district still takes the biggest bite of your property tax dollar, 31 percent, compared to the Eagle County government’s 8 percent and Colorado Mountain College’s 7 percent.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935, and rwyrick@vaildaily.com

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