County expects budget in place by July

June 15, 2013 8:00:56 PM

Sarah Fowler - sfowler@cdispatch.com

 

As the 2012-2013 fiscal year comes to a close, area schools are finalizing their budgets for next year. 

 

During the Lowndes County School Board meeting on Friday, the district made plans to approve the budget by the end of June. 

 

State law requires all school budgets be submitted by August 15. However, because the fiscal year ends on June 30, Lowndes County School District Business Administrator Lotis Johnson said she wanted to have the budget completed before the July payroll. 

 

"We won't be able to do anything as far as business-wise from June 30 until the budget actually gets approved," she said. 

 

Johnson said while the budget is mostly complete, she is waiting to speak with Lowndes County Tax Assessor Greg Andrews to calculate ad valorem tax. 

 

"Up to today, the budget is about 99.8 percent (completed)," she said. "As far as ad valorem is concerned, we put in the exact same numbers this year and once we get with him (Andrews) we'll update those figures." 

 

At the time of the meeting on Friday, Johnson said the school district had 32 personnel positions available. She told board members she calculated the 2013-2014 budget based on filling those vacancies. 

 

"Now the budget is in the system for them which equates to about $1.1 million to $1.3 million with benefits, so those numbers are in the budget." 

 

Johnson added that the districts expenditures will initially exceed their revenues. However, she expects the district to have a healthy cash reserve at the end of the upcoming fiscal year. 

 

"We are projecting expenditures will exceed expected revenues by about $249,000 as of today. However, when we end FY 14, the projected fund balance will be about $12,250,000 and that balance is a 31-percent reserve. We're in really good shape." 

 

Board members questioned why Johnson wanted to budget approved in June instead of July. 

 

She reiterated that in order to pay their July bills, the budget needed to be approved. 

 

"We need to approve it before July 1," Johnson said. 

 

The public hearing for the LCSD budget will be June 28. 

 

 

 

Columbus schools budget 

 

The Columbus Municipal School District plans to have a budget hearing in July, according to CMSD Superintendent Dr. Martha Liddell. 

 

In an email, Liddell said while the budget is not yet finalized, a public hearing will be scheduled before July 15. 

 

"Columbus School District Superintendent and budget team are completing the final phases of the district's budget development process," Liddell wrote in response to questions about the status of the district's budget plans. "The public budget meeting will be held at Central Office prior to July 15." 

 

When asked about the district's cash reserve, Liddell declined to provide specifics, saying it would be presented at the hearing. 

 

"As a part of the public budget hearing to be held in July, the district's current cash reserves will be presented," she said via email. 

 

Bonny Granger, the Mississippi Department of Education financial advisor for Northeast Mississippi, said it is becoming increasingly common for school districts to finalize their budgets in July. She attributed the delay to ad valorem taxes. 

 

"Many, many school districts do not have e a final budget before June 30 because the counties are not required to do certain things with ad valorem taxes until July 1 and the school districts budgets are funding partially through ad valorem taxes." 

 

Granger said despite not having a final budget in place, the board can vote to approve the claims docket. 

 

"The board can go ahead and vote to pay regular bills," she said. 

 

Granger said districts can begin working on their budget as early as March. Johnson said she has been preparing the county school district's budget since January. 

 

"You can start all the way back in March figuring your salaries. It goes all the way back before you get teacher contracts generally. The thing is, you're waiting on information in a lot of cases as you're doing a budget. It's a hurry up and wait process." 

 

CMSD is currently operating without a Chief Financial Officer. Former CFO Kenneth Hughes was fired on May 3. Business office supervisor Felicia Elmore has taken on Hughes' duties since then. 

 

During the May board meeting, board member Jason Spears asked Elmore if the district was on track to meet their budget needs, citing the 2012 personnel cuts. Elmore responded that she did not know. 

 

When asked if the district has plans to hire a CFO, Liddell declined to comment.

Sarah Fowler covers crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch. Follow her on Twitter @FowlerSarah