LIBERTY - The Liberty Board of Education on Monday projected the school district's debt to exceed $15 million in five years, beginning with the 2013 debt estimated at $1.35 million.
David Malone, board member, described the community response as "disheartening" after the board shared the district's five-year financial forecast and gave those in attendance the opportunity to participate on a citizen advisory committee, saying, "You think people would care more."
The forecast was projected by the board by looking at budgets from previous years and was presented by District Treasurer Jim Wilson at the Monday evening board meeting.
The numbers predicted debt accruing to $6.20 million in 2015 and eventually to $15.19 million by 2017.
Wilson attributed the debt to tax anticipation notes, which allowed the district to borrow money against future levies, and to House Bill 264, an energy conservation loan that was placed into the building capital projects fund.
In her closing remarks, board member Diana DeVito said, "It boils down to the essential question, 'What kind of school district do you want?' and the follow-up question, 'What kind of community are you willing to pay for?'"
DeVito said eventually it comes to a "point where cuts in expenses just can't help you."
Putting a personal tone on the meeting, Malone shared that he moved to Liberty to provide a quality education for his four children, after he had attended Liberty. He addressed the citizens in attendance who had children in the school district posing the question, "What's going to be left for them?"
The board is in the process of forming a citizens advisory committee to allow locals to weigh in on the financial situation. Wilson said the purpose of the committee is to "provide more transparency and community input."
Citizens were given the opportunity to sign up to be on the committee at the end of the meeting.
Christina Smith, a fourth-grade teacher at Liberty, signed up to be on the committee. She said, though she doesn't live in Liberty, she has a "vested interest" in the district as her daughter attends kindergarten there.
Ed Palumbo of Liberty, who is also on the citizen committee, expressed his concern at the meeting about high taxes in Liberty.
"The problem is when your taxes are this high, higher taxes kill your tax base," he said.
Palumbo said that with high taxes residents are unable to make home improvements and spend money at local stores.
James Jones, board member, said that while it is hard to project five years out, he does not believe Liberty residents "understand the scope of the problem."