ECS facing low revenue growth, high insurance costs

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   Elizabethton City Schools will face an enormous increase in insurance premiums for the coming fiscal year -- but revenues are not keeping up with growing expenditures.
   "We've been getting by pretty good for the last five years, but what has got us has been the last two years," said Cynthia Roberts, ECS director of finance at a school board workshop meeting Tuesday evening.
   Insurance costs for system employees is expected to increase $339,000 to $1.7 million for the 2003-2004 fiscal year. Roberts estimated a 15 percent increase in health insurance costs and 5 percent rise in dental insurance costs to cover the system's 300 employees.
   This year will be the third consecutive jump of over $200,000 in insurance premiums for the system in the past three years, according to past budget numbers.
   "That's a pretty hefty amount," said school board chairman, Dr. Bob Sams.
   The workshop allowed school board members to begin reviewing salary proposals and capital project needs for the upcoming 2004 fiscal year.
   Roberts said actual sales tax revenues grew 2.4 percent during the 2001-2002 fiscal year while property revenues rose 4.5 percent over the same period.
   She said she had projected two percent growth in sales tax revenues and a three percent jump in property tax revenues the coming fiscal year. Those projections reflected new revenue amounts to top at around $400,000 this year.
   Roberts presented two salary increase scales, a three percent raise and a four percent raise for system employees.
   The 2003 fiscal year salaries came in at $9.9 million. A three percent increase would require $397,000 in new money while a 4 percent raise required a $500,000 in new money, according to Roberts.
   Director of schools, Dr. Judy Blevins, said she and Roberts calculated that insurance and salaries comprised approximately 87 percent of the system's $13 million budget.
   Sams suggested an idea of turning the existing dental coverage provided to system employees and instead convert that coverage into cash.
   Sam Greenwell of the Elizabethton Education Association said such a proposal would have to be discussed in negotiation between the system and the union.
   "For me, it's like robbing Peter to pay Paul," said Greenwell. "We would have to sit down at the table and talk about that."
   The system is scheduled to submit all budgetary requests to the city of Elizabethton finance office by Feb. 21.