Nicolet tries closing budget gap

Current outlook depends on increase in revenue limit, energy savings projects

April 23, 2013

Glendale - Nicolet is closing the budget gap resulting from Gov. Scott Walker's proposed 2013-15 budget, though the district is still relying on an increased revenue limit to balance its books in the 2013-14 year, according to a budget update presented to the School Board on Monday.

The governor's proposed biennial budget includes a freeze to the state-mandated revenue limit which controls how much districts can take in via local tax levy and state aid. Nicolet will soon begin work on a stormwater system overhaul and special education facility expansion. The debt from those two projects creates a $300,000 expense over the next 10 years and an equal budget deficit in light of a frozen revenue limit. Factoring in increasing operating costs, the district calculated an approximately $351,000 deficit when Walker released his proposed 2013-15 budget in February, district Business Manager Jeff Dellutri said.

Projects allow higher levy

Since then, district administrators have calculated staffing and programming needs in the coming year, estimated benefit increases, and set in motion planning of energy savings projects which, under state law, allow the district to bypass the revenue limit freeze and raise taxes by an average of 1.5 percent during the next three years.

The energy savings projects, paid for by the increased levy, shift several big ticket items off the district capital improvement plan, freeing up about $200,000 for the budget gap. Following state law the School Board will meet Monday to authorize the approximately $4 million in new debt for the energy saving work, after which the public will have a 30-day period to petition for a referendum on the projects.

The capital budget reductions resulting from the energy savings projects, combined with an estimated $94,000 decrease in personnel costs and approximately $29,000 in board authorized new expenses, mean the district's budget gap has shrunk to about $86,000 for the coming school year. That estimate, however, assumes state legislators include a $150 per-pupil increase to the revenue limit instead of the freeze Walker has proposed.

Acclimating taxpayers

A key feature of the debt associated with the energy savings projects, Dellutri said, would be that the resulting increase in taxes would acclimate taxpayers to paying more and make an increased operational referendum - relative to the $2.15 million referendum that passed in 2011 and lasts through the 2015-16 year - palatable to voters.

While the board did vote unanimously Monday to begin looking for firms to administer the energy savings projects, member Ellen Redeker commented that she was uncomfortable with borrowing so much, increasing taxes, and as a result creating such a high-stakes referendum in the future.

"If the referendum doesn't pass, the cuts we would have to make would be staggering," Redeker said, "because we would be committing to the debt."

Dellutri said that the district will need to go to referendum again in 2016 anyway, to sustain its current spending.

"If the referendum loses, that's then up to the community to make those cuts," he said.

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