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A recommendation from York County staff to cut capital improvement spending projections by $96.2 million over the next six years have school board members concerned its buildings won’t receive the necessary upkeep to prevent costlier improvements in the future.
If the county’s Capital Improvements Program is adopted as proposed, the York County School Division would have to cut $22.1 million over the next six years from the CIP it passed last fall.
“That’s quite a deficit from what we requested to what we have available,” said Carl James, chief operations officer for York County School Division.
As a result, James said a majority of projects are being pushed back two years from their initial proposed dates with the reductions.
Proposed Capital Improvement Plan Defers Needed Projects for York County Schools
The county’s proposed six-year plan gives the school division about $7.57 million less in fiscal year 2017, but averages about $9 million per year for the school division’s capital projects compared to an average of $6.7 million in the last 10 years.
“So to be fair, even after our process and after our cuts, which I know the superintendent feels are too much, I am still putting forth a CIP that gives the schools one-third more in their capital budget than the average amount they received over the last 10 years,” York County Administrator Neil Morgan said in an interview with WYDaily.
The School Board aired a number of concerns during a work session Monday, saying the greatest angst stems from the fear of a major failure in a piece of equipment that could cost millions of dollars that are not readily available – and such a problem could be the result of postponing needed projects.
“You’re playing Russian roulette,” School Board member Page Minter said.
School Board member Mark Medford noted costs also go up the longer a project is put off, often calling for replacement instead of repair for work on projects like roofs or HVAC systems.
James projected costs to rise by 5 percent each year a project is delayed.
“I’m just worried that putting things off or having to be squeezed and reprioritizing is going to put the division in harm years out,” Medford said.
He suggested bringing in an outside entity to review the school division’s findings in assessing aging facilities and equipment to reinforce the growing needs of the school division.
“We’ve taken great pride and care into maintaining our facilities and now we’re sort of faced with maybe we can’t maintain our facilities like we’re accustomed to doing,” School Board Chairman Dr. Robert George said.
Regardless, Superintendent Victor Shandor assured the board the school division is going to be responsible with the resources provided and make sure the students get what is needed.
Morgan said the proposed plan essentially maximizes the amount of debt the county can issue based on the operating budget.
During his budget presentation last week, Morgan said building up capital reserves and adding more debt service funds into the operating budget could help grow that amount.
“We have a very lean budget. Half of our real estate is nontaxable,” Morgan said, referring to the federal land. “What holds us back in the aggressiveness of our CIP is not debt per capita. It’s the amount of debt service relative to the overall size of our operating budget.”
Morgan said since the Great Recession in the late 2000s, the state has cut back funding to the school division by about $5 million and in the same time period the county has increased funding by about $6 million, which is a 20-percent proportional swing in state funding to county funding.
“The county has done a lot for the schools. I think everybody feels good about that, but perhaps it would be honest to say, I feel like at least I need to also be a voice for the needs of the rest of the county organization,” Morgan said.
Ultimately, the decision of funding capital projects lies with the Board of Supervisors, and once the county and school division budgets are adopted, only fiscal 2017, which begins July 1, is set in stone.
The school division determines which projects to prioritize, using the capital fund amounts provided by the county as its guide.