2011-11-05 / News

Lakewood’s financial outlook improves

By Scott Rawdon

HEBRON – Lakewood Schools Treasurer Glenna Plaisted said the district’s budget would not be in the red until 2016, which is one year later than previously projected. “We were able to buy ourselves another year,” she said during a special Lakewood School Board meeting Oct. 20, where Plaisted presented the district’s five-year budget forecast. “We’ve made some huge strides in our savings.”

“Last year, we had a forecast showing a deficit in 2015,” said superintendent Jay Gault. “We extended it one more year to 2016. That’s huge.” He said a 5.8 mill renewal emergency levy that voters approved in March 2008 expires in 2014. The district will need to return to the ballot in 2013 to replace this levy, returning the millage (tax rate) to 5.8 mills.

Plaisted said her forecast assumes that no levies are approved during the next five years. Currently, the forecast predicts the district will be roughly $3.7 million in the hole by 2016.

“It would be tough to pass a levy soon,” said board member Forrest Cooperrider. Voters approved an additional 9.9 mills levy last November.

“As a renewal, we have to go for it,” said board president Judy White.

Plaisted said in her forecast that real estate taxes make up 54 percent of total revenues, which includes two emergency levies. The emergency levies total 26.45 percent of the district’s total revenues. She said 2011 is Licking County’s reappraisal year. “In the spring, the auditors office was projecting negative value adjustments, however now we are looking at holding the same or relatively small increases in values,” said Plaisted. She said delinquent real estate taxes totaling more than $1.2 million as of October 2011 is a huge issue. “We don’t know how that will hurt us,” said Plaisted. “We’ll collect it eventually.”

Plaisted described the district’s expenditures. She said salaries and benefits are 79 percent of the budget. The forecast includes new one-year negotiated contracts, the non-replacement of eight retiring positions from fiscal year 2011, and three retiring positions from fiscal year 2012, offset by additions of an in-school suspension monitor, a special education itinerant, and a part-time psychologist. Plaisted said benefits included a health insurance plan design change, and an incentive to opt out of health insurance.

In other school board news:

• Gault said the district’s plan to use solar-generated electricity is on hold. “It’s not off the table by any means,” he said. “It’s not if, but when. We truly believe we can save money.”

Eric Zimmer, founder and CEO of the Dublin, based Tipping Point Renewable Energy, told board members previously that the district would have no up front or maintenance costs and could save $650,000 over the next 20 years if the company installs a solar power system on campus. “We get paid by producing power,” he said previously. “If we don’t produce power, we don’t get paid,” Zimmer said a 1.2-megawatt system could produce 85 to 90 percent of the power that all the district buildings – except the administration building and Hebron Elementary School-require. AEP would supply the remaining 10 to 15 percent.

“There’s so much up in the air right now with the PUCO,” said Gault, adding that electricity rate changes are proposed, and some government incentives may no longer be available. “We’re going to back off until January,” he said.

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