The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

January 15, 2014

Mifflinburg school board mulls $1.3M deficit

By Evamarie Socha
The Daily Item

LEWISBURG — MIFFLINBURG — The Mifflinburg school board followed tradition Tuesday night, voting unanimously, in lieu of a preliminary budget, to adopt a resolution not to raise taxes above its allowed index of 2.8 percent.

The 2014-15 budget stands at $27.7 million, Superintendent Dan Lichtel said. The resolution means the school board will not seek exemptions from the state to raise taxes above that index mark, and this has been the typical course of action for the board.

“At this stage in the game, this budget assumes no increase in state subsidies and no tax increases,” he said.

The school district’s deficit stands at $1.3 million, a figure it’s faced in past years and has managed to whittle down by the time the board most adopt a final budget June 30. Mifflinburg has approved deficit budgets for several years.

The index last year was 2.3 percent, but Lichtel said it is not unusual for the index to rise, especially compared to the past several years.

This particular budget also doesn’t include PlanCon reimbursement money the state owes the school district for the high school renovations, done between 2010 and 2012. With no payments in three years, Mifflinburg is owed about $900,000 in reimbursements, Lichtel said.

“PlanCon money was taken out of revenue; previous years, it was included and we didn’t get it,” he said. “It’s hard to bank on it.”

Gov. Tom Corbett put a moratorium on PlanCon reimbursements in 2012 and budgeted $296 million for them in the 2013-14 budget.

One factor still unknown is Corbett’s February budget proposal, due in about three weeks, which could include an increase for basic education.

But it’s not clear in Harrisburg if this will be the year for that to happen. On Tuesday, state House Democrats urged Corbett to make public education a priority and to start restoring nearly $1 billion he has cut from public schools since taking office in 2011, causing nearly 20,000 public school employees to lose their jobs and tax hikes throughout the state to make up the difference.

Pension contributions “definitely play a role” in the coming budget, Lichtel said, expecting the contribution to rise another $600,000.

It’s too soon, however, to know whether Mifflinburg will need to encourage early retirements or make cuts without knowing what’s coming out of Harrisburg, Lichtel said.

“It’s a bit early to talk about it,” he said, adding that as the process continues, a list of what can be done to overcome the deficit will be developed.