Berkeley County residents will see a tax hike this year to fund the school district’s $215 million budget, which includes pay raises for most district employees.
The Berkeley County School Board voted 7-2 on Tuesday to pass a budget that’s about 5 percent higher than last year’s. It will require a tax increase of about $7.50 on a $25,000 vehicle but does not affect taxes on owner-occupied homes.
It also calls for the district to use $2.2 million from the reserve fund, which has about $36 million. County policy is for the fund to have 8 to 15 percent of the total budget, or $17 million to $32 million.
“I think there are other ways we can come up with the funds to balance the budget other than raise the millage,” said board member Phillip Obie, one of the dissenting votes. “Our fund balance is above what our policy says it has to be. If we were to pull out $4 million, it would still fall within the high end of that range.”
Obie said the tax increase for the operating budget, coupled with an increase for the bond referendum, is a “double whammy for the taxpayers.” Homeowners are expected to pay an additional $60, or about 27 percent, on a $150,000 home, for a total of $354, and $15 on a $25,000 vehicle next year to pay for the $198 million school improvement bond.
Board member Scott Marino, the other dissenting vote, said he also felt the tax increase could have been avoided.
“There were other areas in the budget, such as district-level positions, that could be cut further, and we could have used more of the reserve fund,” he said.
The budget includes five district-level employees — two technologists, one human resources employee and two maintenance workers — in addition to a school safety officer, two school resource officers, a nursing supervisor, three guidance counselors, six related-arts teachers and 10 classroom teachers.
The budget also includes step increases for all employees for this year, which averages about 2 percent, plus an increase from 2009-2010, when salaries were frozen.
Step increases are raises based on job performance and years of service.
Board members agreed that the teachers deserve the raises.
“It’s shameful if we do not get our teachers back where they belong,” said board member Kathy Schwalbe.
“And don’t even get me started on our principals’ salaries, because those aren’t anything to be proud of either right now.”
The budget also includes $237,000 for midyear salary study and pay adjustments for the maintenance department.
Chief Financial Officer Brantley Thomas said the final proposal included about $2.9 million in cuts from earlier versions. Among the items the district hoped to add next year but could not were five school resource officers and 11 other new positions.
Also, $500,000 in safety equipment will be funded from the capital improvement account instead of the general budget.
And residents will not have to pay a $25 per student technology fee included in earlier versions of the budget.
The budget goes into effect Monday.
Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or www.facebook.com/brindge.