Chesterton Tribune



Schools face dire cuts under Pence business tax plan

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Governor Mike Pence’s ambition to eliminate local taxes for businesses and equipment may sound good for firms looking to expand in Indiana but not at all beneficial for Duneland Schools.

At Monday’s School Board meeting, DSC Superintendent Dave Pruis said that according to this years’ net assessed values the Porter County Auditor’s office had submitted, the school corporation could lose more than 25 percent of its total net assessed value if the business personal property portion is removed.

In 2013, business property values made up $599.2 million of DSC’s $2.4 billion in AV.

If the governor’s plan goes through, the difference in taxes would have to be picked up by homeowners and will accelerate the time it takes to reach the circuit breakers, said Duneland Chief Financial Officer Lynn Kwilasz, and once the caps are hit anything budgeted over that baseline will be “lost.”

One fund that would take an immediate hit, since it is not subject to the tax caps, is the referendum fund. With a quarter of the taxes gone, the fund would see a drop of about $1.4 million, Pruis said. The referendum has been used to shore up revenues in the schools’ General Fund, which pays for staff and teacher salaries.

“I think that kind of goes without saying we are not at all in favor of the plan to 100 percent eliminate business personal property taxes,” said Pruis, also noting that it would impact city and town governments, township governments and libraries. “Now, who is that going to benefit?”

Comparing it to the $300 million cuts to education made by former Gov. Mitch Daniels a few years ago, Pruis said the state has continued to challenge schools to operate with ever dwindling revenue.

“I think we are doing well, living within our means, but it becomes more and more difficult to do so when they keep changing the means,” he said.

Board member Ronald Stone said the reason the governor wants to drop the tax is reportedly so that Indiana will be more competitive for businesses, but he feels the state should be prepared to address how they are going to replace lost funds to local governments. He’s heard other news reports that the tax elimination may be phased in year by year rather than all at once.

Board president Mike Trout said he suspects Pence is “throwing a power bomb to see where the shrapnel will be.” He figures the state will need to find an alternate way to get local government and schools their revenue.

Porter County governments could lose up to $25 million in tax revenue, with schools facing the steepest declines. Kwilasz said that Duneland would be one of the most affected school corporations in the state, since it has a large net AV with the steel mills and many businesses within its borders.

Pruis said that he’s heard reports of legislators saying that counties could look to raise their income tax rates to cover the windfall. Income taxes would only benefit county government however, he said. The only option for schools to receive additional funding is through a referendum fund.

Board member and former state legislator Ralph Ayers said it would be worthwhile to let the legislators representing Duneland hear of their concerns.

Trout asked Pruis and the school administration to keep the board informed on matters related to the possible tax cuts.

2014 preliminary budget arrives early

In other budget news, DSC got an early holiday gift from the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance -- its preliminary budget order for 2014.

Kwilasz reported that many of the items advertised were equal or close to amounts the state plans to certify and DSC is satisfied with the results. School officials advertised the budget at $64,397,556 and the certified total budget is $63,294,127 with the only major difference in the Capital Projects Fund.

The CPF fund had been set higher to capture the most funding as possible at $10.5 million and the state indicated it will certify the fund at $9.4 million.

Duneland advertised the total tax rate at $1.357 and the preliminary order shows the rate to be certified at $1.0817. The referendum rate will be the full 22 cents per $100 of assessed valuation and will generate $5.58 million for the schools.

Pruis commented that this is the first time in 13 years Duneland received its budget order this soon. Traditionally they are to arrive by mid-February.

Also, the board approved donation amounts that have been collected since June totaling $14,869. Donated were $609 to Jackson Elementary, $1,975 to Yost, $10,000 to Liberty Intermediate, $1,395 to Westchester Intermediate School, and $890 to Chesterton High School.

Health insurance

The board approved a unanimous recommendation by Duneland’s employee benefits review committee to accept rates from Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield for Duneland employees.

Pruis said there are increases in the co-pay amounts this next year. Doctor office visit co-pays will be raised from $10 to $25, emergency room visits $75 to $125, and $35 to $50 for a visit to urgent care.

Retail pharmacy medication costs will be $15 for generic, $34 for brands and $54 for non-formulaic. Medications through Anthem will be $30 for generic, $60 for brands and $90 for non-formulaic.

The out-of-pocket deductible costs and premiums will be the same next year as 2013, Pruis said.

Pruis also mentioned that 37 percent of active and retired employees have used the services at the new Duneland Wellness Center, which is slightly below the first year target of 40 percent. The number of dependents using the center is also near its target of 30 percent, he said.

Personnel Report

Meanwhile, Assistant Superintendent of Operations Monte Moffett prepared a list of appointments and resignations in DSC.

Andrew Prater will be CHS’s new ISS supervisor following in the footsteps T.R. Harlan, who resigned this past month. Also at CHS, Dan Paff has been hired as the new assistant freshman basketball coach and Alex Boatwright as the new freshman wrestling coach.

For the Duneland Schools, Louise C. Diederich will be an administrative assistant in the DSC’s Business Office. Delbert Pullins has been contracted as a bus driver. Nancy Funk and Susan Meyer have been hired as cooks helpers, Janette Pinnell as a custodian, and Daniel Cromwell as a maintenance technician.

At Yost Elementary, Tammy Mora and Arielle Watson will be instructional aides. Heather Friday will be a remediation aide at Jackson Elementary. Brenda Yuste-Gonzalez has been appointed as an ESL Aide at Liberty Elementary.

Resigning are maintenance technician Ryan Mottinger, cooks helper Sandra Murphy, Liberty Elementary ESL Aide Julie Wright and technology aide Kenneth Kurpela.

Taking child care leave this month are Bailly Elementary first grade teacher Tonya Earle and Liberty Elementary third grade teacher Martha Hiestand.

January meeting

The school board will hold its reorganization meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 8 at the DSC Administration Center.

Posted 12/17/2013