By Amanda Keister

The Daily Item

HERNDON — The Line Mountain school board grudgingly passed a preliminary 2008-09 budget Tuesday containing a proposed 3.5-mill tax increase.

The $16 million budget is less then 1 percent smaller than last year's $16.1 million budget thanks to 21 retiring teachers.

According to business manager Philip Rapant, the average homeowner with a property assessment of $13,000 will pay an extra $45.50 in taxes to the school district next year. Homeowners with homes assessed at $45,000 will pay an extra $157.50, he said.

The budget approval, which passed 8-1 with board member Dennis Erdman voting against it, came after more than two hours of argument over whether the district should maintain its substantial fund balance and capital reserve or deplete them by using that money to balance the budget, thereby avoiding a tax increase altogether.

The district's fund balance stands at $1.6 million, Rapant said, and the capital reserve holds about $2.4 million.

The original recommendation from the board's fiscal committee was to raise taxes 5 mills, which would have covered an addition $307,000 factored into the 2008-09 budget for debt incurred by the district's $21 million construction and renovation project.

As it was, the 3.5-mill tax hike is more than a mill less than the tax increase recommended to the board by its financial adviser to cover debt service.

Despite that, board member David Keim suggested the board not raise taxes at all and instead use the district's fund balance to balance the budget.

It was a strategy Superintendent David Campbell did not agree with.

"If we go zero (mills), it needs to be clear it certainly won't be zero next year," Campbell said, "not even close."

Rapant estimated the district would have to raise taxes as much as 9 mills next year if it erred on the side of thriftiness this year.

The budget will be open for public review for the next 30 days. The board plans to adopt a final budget at its June 17 meeting.

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