by justin strawser

CATAWISSA RR - The first report for the 2013-14 general operating budget for Southern Columbia Area puts the district more than $643,000 in the hole.

But, said school board Vice President Charlie Porter Monday night at a special meeting, the final budget is not close to completion and will require more discussion and "lots of tweaks."

Porter is on the finance committee with Directors Eric Stahley and Gail Zambor Schuerch. Stahley is the chair, but arrived late to the meeting due to other responsibilities.

Expected revenue is $17,717,944, and expenditures are expected to be $18,361,275, which would put the deficit at $643,331, Porter said.

This takes into account a tax increase of 2.2 percent, which is the maximum allowed by the state, that would generate approximately $140,000 into the budget, he said.

In order to balance last year's $17,537,041 budget, the board approved to furlough three employees and increase taxes by 2.05 mills in Northumberland County and 4.67 mills in Columbia County.

If the 2.2 percent increase is approved, taxes in Northumberland County would increase from 49.95 mills to 51.30 mills. An average property owner with an assessed property at $25,000 would pay an additional $33.75 a year.

In Columbia County, it will increase from 34.20 mills to 34.75 mills. An average property owner with an assessed property at $25,000 will pay an additional $13.75 a year.

Porter also reported that negotiations with American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the union that represents non-instructional staff such as aides, custodians, bus drivers, secretaries and maintenance and cafeteria workers, are looking favorable.

The current contract expired July 1, 2012, and the ACSCME employees have been operating under the old agreement. The new contract will be retroactive to the expired date and will active until June 30, 2015, Porter said.

The district is negotiating the "whole package," which includes salaries and benefits, he said.

"I think we came to an agreement. It just needs to be on paper," Porter said.

Once the union's proposal is physically presented to the negotiation committee - which consists of Porter, John Yocum and Mike Yeager - they will review it and send it back to the union board.

"It will be up to them to take it back for a vote. The Union votes on the contract before the board does. If they vote for it, it will come up to the board, assuming everything has been put in that we verbally agreed on," Porter said.

He would not say whether there would be any savings for the district in new contract.

The Southern Columbia Educational Association, the union which represents the teachers, expires next June, and Porter said the committee will start the negotiation discussion after the first of 2013.