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By KEVIN KOELLING
CANNELTON – Cannelton School Board members heard at a regular meeting Nov. 15 what Schools Superintendent Al Sibbitt called good news about the corporation’s budget.
The district has been suffering financial problems for some time, brought about by a combination of circumstances. They included a need to repay state funding after student counts were overstated and delays and steep cuts in that funding. The board fired previous Superintendent Al Chapman in January and as the News reported in August, a state auditor accused him of improperly taking more than $200,000 in extra pay, among other costly actions.
Sibbitt has said several times since taking over he has a three-year plan to get the corporation’s books in order.
“I’ve been crunching figures for days and days, trying to figure out how I think we’re going to come out in 2013,” he told the board at their latest meeting. “There are some variables that I have no control over. One, as you know, as a result of Perry County not having the 1-percent local-option (income) tax (which some counties have adopted). It makes the tax rates of the schools here much higher” than those of counties with the tax. One percent of residents’ salaries “goes to lower all your property taxes … since we don’t have that, the circuit breaker does kick in.”
The “circuit breaker” is a cap on the tax paid by each property owner.
“I can’t estimate what that’s going to be,” Sibbitt said. “I know what it was last year. Also, we have property in Cannelton that has been abandoned and that does not sell when they have a tax sale.”
If collected, “the overwhelming majority of that money would come to the school corporation,” Sibbitt said, “because most of the property tax you pay goes to the school corporation and the city. So those are the factors that I have no control over. I will know those in June when we get our tax draw, how much money the circuit breaker caused us not to take in and how much money individuals … did not pay in property taxes.”
Sibbitt also reported two of three additional appropriations he requested were approved by the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance. Approvals came for $22,502 in the school system’s capital-projects fund “because I could show we have enough revenue coming in to cover that,” he said, and $9,483 for bus replacement. “Again, I could show that we have the income to cover that. They did not approve (a) $411,137 request in the general fund, and the reason is we have enough money in 2012 to fund our budget. The problem is we’re still showing about a $305,000 deficit.”
He spoke to Tom Alles, an auditor with the State Board of Accounts, he said, “and they will make a notation when they come here two years from now that we did expend money in the general fund without having an approved appropriation to spend that money, but that’s been the case here for years and years. That’s going to change one of these days, but that’s the reason they did not give it.”
“We have the money or will have the money,” he continued, “to make all of the payments out of the general fund in 2013, but it would not cover the $305,000 deficit that we’ve had in the past. It’s nothing different than it has been in the past. I wanted you to be aware of that.”
Again, no motion was necessary, he told the board.
“I have figured that very conservatively,” he continued, “and I am very happy to report that it’s my best estimate (that) as a result of increasing the capital projects and as a result of having the referendum fund … in 2013, we will take in a minimum of $150,000 and a maximum of $200,000 in the general fund … less than our expenditures.” That will allow him to get the books back into the black over a period of three years, he said “On paper, we show a $300,000 deficit. In reality, it’s $450,000 because as you remember, we had the treasurer cancel $150,000 in checks that we didn’t pay. “
He meant to say “More than our expenditures,” he said when the News called him about the apparent confusion Thursday. He also corrected the canceled-checks figure to $213,000, but still plans to have the bottom line in positive territory in three years.
Of those who are owed the $213,000, “they’re working with me,” the superintendent said. “They’ve been very understanding.”
He’s been working to pay off bills incurred the first part of this year, he explained. One with Ivy Tech was paid off last month and another with a special-education cooperative, totaling $12,696, will be paid off this month, he said.
“My goal is to keep everybody paid up currently, then when we get our tax money in June, I’ll pay the previous amounts,” Sibbitt said.