OSHKOSH - With a double-digit tax increase on the table, the Oshkosh School Board spent more than four hours trying to chip away at its initial budget.
Board members voted for an 8.7 percent property tax increase, trimming expenses like the replacement of a boiler, window work at West High School and some classroom outfitting from the early budget draft.
That number is based on a one percent decrease in equalized property value.
The administration was recommending a 13 percent property tax hike, equating $127 on a $120,000 home, the highest the state allows.
Taxpayer views on the budget varied. Some strongly supported increased spending; others, including the city's mayor, voiced concerns.
"With people out of work, people unemployed, underemployed, taxes going up two, three, four percent for them is a lot," Mayor Paul Esslinger said. "Thirteen point five percent I think is just bizarre. I think it's in the bizarre zone."
Theresa Thiel of Oshkosh disagreed.
"Yes, the times are difficult, but somehow I manage to find these dollars because I value education and I believe it's important."
The administration had hoped to spend the maximum allowed by the state, while also taking advantage of a 2009 referendum that allows the district to exceed revenue caps by $1.3 million for deferred maintenance.
"Nobody likes tax increases but we're going to try to get the best possible education at the lowest possible cost," board president John Lemberger said.
The district did not tax to the max last year, but ended with a $3 million surplus because of unexpected revenue and lower salary and utility costs.
Administrators say it's time to focus on student needs and long-range plans while budgeting, not the amount of money.
There will be a public hearing on the budget Oct. 13. The tax rate won't be official until late October.
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