Archive for Thursday, January 23, 2003

Governor’s budget plan piles on city

City administrator prepares for cuts while USD 232 looks for savings

January 23, 2003

Although K-12 education escaped further cuts in the budget that Gov. Kathleen Sebelius presented to the Legislature last week, De Soto USD 232 Deputy Superintendent Sharon Zoellner remains weary.

"I'm guardedly optimistic, because things can change on a dime as we saw in August when they cut us $27 (per pupil) after we had already signed contracts," she said.

Zoellner's concerns are well-founded, said Rep. Rob Boyer, R-Olathe.

At a gathering Monday in Eudora, the freshman state representative said the Legislature would eye education as it dealt with Gov Kathleen Selebius' budget proposals and an anticipated $750 million budget shortfall for fiscal year 2004.

"It's not a bad starting point," Boyer said. "My take on the budget is she did what she said she was going to do during the campaign of not raising taxes or cutting education."

But Boyer predicted the Legislature would take a hard look at some of her recommendations, which could have consequences to school funding.

The new governor proposed $80 million in further cuts to the demand transfers, revenue the state sends back to counties and cities. Sebelius' proposed cuts followed a $48 million reduction imposed by then-Gov. Bill Graves in November.

The city's current budget took a $66,000 hit from the Graves' cuts, De Soto City Administrator Greg Johnson said. Although he hasn't been able to, Johnson said for budget purposes he was assuming it will total the $140,000 the city was set to receive in demand transfers.

The city can absorb the revenue shortfall this year by not filling two positions the City Council penciled in when it approved the 2003 budget last summer. The cuts might also affect the city's capital improvement project list, but Johnson said the primary funding source for the items in that document was a bond issue, which in turn is to be retired with revenue collected from the 1/4-cent sales tax city voters approved in November 2001.

There would be long-term consequences to the local mill levy should the state not restore the demand transfers, Johnson said.

Sebelius also proposed a $280 million cut to the Kansas Department of Transportation and "zeroing out" the state's year-end carry-over reserve. Boyer predicted the Legislature would restore some funding to KDOT and said the Legislature would insist on some reserves in the year-end balance.

A proposal last year to reduce the reserve from 7 percent to 5 percent was not well-received in the Legislature, Boyer said.

The school district will feel the pinch of the state's ongoing revenue shortfall even should legislative tweaking of the governor's proposal result in no reductions to education, Zoellner said. The governor's proposal froze education funding, forcing the district to trim back in response to inflation, higher health insurance premiums and salary increases, she said.

"We're still going to have to find dollars," Zoellner said. "An administrative team is scrutinizing every program in the district, so we know what we do in every single building to spend money."

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