IRSD sets tax rates

The Indian River School District (IRSD) moved to increase, and decrease, property taxes at the June 21 School Board meeting, depending not as much on where they’re coming from as where they’re going.

As Director of Business & Finance Patrick Miller explained, they would actually decrease taxes overall, by 4.9 cents per $100, and were partly able to do that because the tax base had increased. And some people would actually see a slight increase, due to one of the austerity measures the district imposed two months ago when operating reserves dipped into the red.

From Miller’s synopsis, the overall property tax assessment would become $2.24 per $100 of assessed valuation.

This tax is actually four-part. Miller maintained the portion going to current operating expense (local salaries, benefits, insurance, etc.) — that rate can only be increased by referendum anyway.

He recommended slightly decreasing the debt service (principal and interest payments on bonds) and tuition (special school environments for autistic, deaf, blind children, etc.) portions of the tax. Miller said the debt service budgetary pot was at appropriate levels. While tuition costs were actually on the increase, several students with special needs had graduated recently, so the district had fewer expenses this year.

Minor capital improvement (health and safety, asbestos, etc.) increased slightly, appropriately, as board members discussed various roofing proposals later in the meeting.

So that’s property tax, and Miller listed estimated the district would collect (1) nearly $15.5 million under current operating expense, (2) nearly $3.6 million under debt service, (3) nearly $3.8 million under tuition and (4) more than $466,000 under minor cap this fiscal year.

According to Miller, with the increasing value of every home in the district, each penny assessed would return $102,000 this year — up from $98,000 last year.

As noted, some people will see an increase on their property tax bill (3.4 percent), as the district has repealed a credit offered in previous years. This would affect residents who have lived in the county for five years or more, and have their primary residence here. Miller said the increase would affect only the parcel where their homes are situated — if they have both homes and farms, for instance.

The senior citizen tax credit remains intact — Board Member Dr. Don Hattier asked Miller just how revenue neutral it was, and Miller said it depended on how many people took advantage of it — the more, the better.

There’s the capitation tax as well, $12 a year assessed on each adult (over the age of 18) resident of the IRSD, Miller pointed out. He estimated $380,000 from that source this year, and those funds are divided up between current expense and debt service.

Before the meeting, someone had placed flyers in all the seats — flyers highly uncomplimentary to construction management firm EDiS, and possibly the district.

As the phantom pamphleteer alleged, EDiS was to blame for delays, a defaulted contract and substandard workmanship at the new Sussex Central High School — in brief, a project $2 million “over budget.”

The defaulted contract alone may (or may not) set the district back $2 million, all by itself — liability for that bond remains a topic of pending litigation. Miller had stated at budget time that he would need to proceed as if it were unrecoverable, though.

IRSD spokesperson Dave Maull reported general agreement that the document contained inaccuracies, but as he pointed out, it was a public meeting. People sometimes stood by the entryway and passed out literature, Maull said, although he’d never seen it placed in seats before.

At any rate, the flyers seemed to indicate EDiS was not solely to blame — as the phantom pamphleteer advised, readers should contact their school board members and “ask how they let this happen.”

Austerity measures have raised public protest especially inasmuch as they have threatened the district’s behavior modification teams (intervention specialists, in-school suspension supervisors). However, members of the Safety in our Schools (SOS) committee reported some good news on that front at the June 21 meeting.

As Patrice Pikulsky read from a prepared statement, “We were told that lack of funds would result in these positions being advertised and filled at lesser pay, benefits and/or number of hours.”

Since that time, SOS had received correspondence from Rep. Gerald Hocker (38th District) and Sen. George Howard Bunting (20th District) indicating the possibility of getting in an extra $2 million for the IRSD this state budget cycle, Pikulsky continued.

Miller agreed it looked hopeful, but said those funds weren’t set in stone. Also, that money would come from bond sales, which take place in either July or January, he said — the district wouldn’t have time to put together the documentation in time for the July sale.

In other business, board members approved a $123,400 bid packet for roof work at three schools (Georgetown Middle, East Millsboro Elementary and the Southern Delaware School of the Arts).

They also decided to move forward in pursuit of more than $2.7 million worth of Certificates of Necessity (which would be granted by the state Department of Education) for roof work at North Georgetown and Long Neck elementaries and Selbyville Middle.

Architects French & Ryan included inflation-adjusted estimates as well. Costs were likely to increase to nearly $3.3 million if the district waited until mid-2006, and to more than $3.9 million by mid-2007, according to French & Ryan.

In the meantime, Building and Grounds Supervisor Greg Weer said district staff was hard at work (1) moving from the old, to the new, Indian River High and (2) moving from Lord Baltimore Elementary to the old Indian River High.

He reported a go-ahead from the town of Ocean View, for asbestos abatement and interior demolition at Lord Baltimore, as soon as everyone’s safely over in Frankford.