BRIDGEWATER, NJ - After being directed by the board of education to investigate budget options that would use even more of the banked cap money in the 2017-2018 budget, Business Administrator Peter Starrs presented three options – and board members are torn on which to use.
Every year, the district approves a banked cap which, by state law, allows a district that has not exceeded the tax levy cap of 2 percent to bank the unused tax levy for use in any of the next three succeeding budget years.
If a district does not go to 2 percent in a given year, the money that would have been used to go to that cap is saved for a three-year period.
Currently, the district has $562,087 banked from the 2014-2015 budget, $1,653,331 from the 2015–2016 budget and $60,611 from the 2016-2017 budget.
The first option, Starrs said, is actually the plan the administration had originally presented to the board, using $416,714 from the banked cap in the 2014-2015 school budget, with the remaining $145,373 set to expire.
That option, for Bridgewater, would increase the tax levy by 3.23 percent, or $118, for an average homeowner.
Starrs said he does not yet have the information from Raritan to determine what the estimated tax increase would be for those residents.
The second option, Starrs said, would be to use all of the money from the 2014-2015 banked cap, rather than allowing any to expire. A number of board members have said they don’t see the purpose of letting any of the money expire.
That would add a total of $562,087 to the budget.
Starrs said that, for Bridgewater only, that would increase the tax levy by 3.34 percent, for an extra $3.19 on top of the $118.
The third option, Starrs said, takes all of the banked cap from the 2014-2015 school year, as well as some of the money from the 2015-2016 school year.
The district currently has $1.6 million banked from the 2015-2016 budget, and the third option proposes using $262,728 of it, in addition to all from 2014-2015, for a total of $824,615.
That option, Starrs said, will require a 3.54 percent increase in the tax levy for Bridgewater residents, or an additional $8.95 on top of the extra $118.
In the three options, Starrs said, they broke down how the money in the budget, not just the banked cap money, will be split to reach their goals of providing enough capital to account for technology, facilities and curriculum.
The goal of the changes to the budget is for the district to be planning for the future, starting with a number of permanent allocations that will be included in the budget each year with regard to those three elements.
In the first option, money is allocated to fund about 90 percent of the technology goals, about 10 percent of the facilities goals and almost 50 percent of the curriculum goals.
In the second option, the only change is to fund more than 10 percent of the facilities goals.
In the third option, the district would be able to fund 100 percent of its technology goals, about 15 percent of its facilities goals and more than 50 percent of the curriculum goals.
Superintendent Russell Lazovick said that since they had almost fully funded their technology goals, it made sense to finish that off in one of the options so that the rest of the focus could be on fulfilling the final other two goals.
With regard to technology, Lazovick said, the state gives recommended time frames for the use of technology, and while some of the computers and other equipment might still work, the wear and tear of so many people using it often requires changes to be made sooner rather than later.
All board members agreed that option one, which causes the district to lose about $145,000 in expired banked cap from the 2014-2015 budget would be the wrong decision, and that option was eliminated.
But members were torn on whether to just use all of the banked cap from 2014-2015, or to dip into the 2015-2016 numbers.
“We’ve been woefully under-spending on facilities for years, and we have some things coming due and no way to pay for them,” said board member Jeffrey Brookner, who emphasized that he is in favor of option three. “This is a way to start working toward that so what when these things hit, we can pay for them.”
Many board members said they are torn between options two and three, and board member Lisa Weinstock said she would like to see more of a breakdown of what the money would be used for in each option.
Lazovick said he is still working with the principals and administration to determine the exact breakdown, and was hoping to at least eliminate one option through the presentation.
“Every year, it’s always been what do we want for next year, rather than connecting to future years,” he said. “We are looking at what we have to spend so we don’t have to spend even more.”
The board is expected to approve a tentative budget March 14, and a public hearing is scheduled for April 25. Additional conversations about the budget in the meetings leading up to the March 14 meeting are also expected.