The Northeastern School Board voted 5-4 Monday to use budget cuts and a tax increase to close a projected deficit in its $57 million draft budget for 2013-14.
The board's vote limits any possible property tax increase to 2.3 percent -- or .55 mills. That would work out to an additional $55 in taxes for property assessed at $100,000.
The tax increase would raise $715,000 in new revenue, leaving the board to close a remaining gap between revenues and expenses ranging from $429,000 to nearly $1.28 million.
Board members Margie Walker, Linda Morningstar, K. Mike Redding, Chris Neiman and Kevin Gebhart voted in favor of the motion. Constance Koerner, William Gingerich, Vanessa Snell and Christine Hess opposed the motion.
The board must balance the preliminary budget by Feb. 20.
Two weeks ago, board members proposed some ideas for possible cuts that include closing Mount Wolf Elementary, not replacing teachers who retire or quit, exploring alternate ways to fund athletics and extra-curricular activities, or eliminating academic programs.
Gingerich said the decisions have become more difficult each of the last five years.
"I know we've fallen further and further behind and our fund balance has dropped," Gingerich said. At the same time, he added, "I could never accept a 5 percent tax increase."
Board member Kevin Gebhart noted the district recently ratified a new teacher contract.
"In my opinion, if we can afford to give raises, we can afford to give tax breaks," Gebhart said.
Redding said it bothers him that the country is in the worst economy since the Great Depression.
"We need to stop this excessive bleeding," he said.
Officials previously said the wide variation in the projected deficit -- anywhere between $469,000 and $1.28 million -- results from their uncertainty about how several unresolved issues will work out, including a pending tax assessment appeal that could cost the district more than $800,000 in revenue next year.
And officials will be looking for legislative reforms of the state workers' pension system that is expected to cost the district more than $500,000 in new expenses.
When board members pressed the issue Monday, Brian Geller, director of operations, said he thinks the actual deficit will be closer to the higher figure.
Next school board meeting
The next school board meeting will be 7 p.m. Feb. 4.