Columbia County's most inexpensive restaurant could be upping the price of meals next year.
In a budget study session Tuesday, Columbia County School Superintendent Tommy Price recommended the board increase student lunch prices by 25 cents next year.
The move would improve, but not eliminate, the budget deficit in the school nutrition budget. However, the 25-cent increase will likely pave the way for additional increases in the coming years. Price said the school system has not had an increase in lunch prices for about eight years.
The school nutrition budget is its own entity, separate from the system's regular operating budget. About 60 percent of revenues are from those students who pay out of pocket for breakfast and lunch.
"The only way you can significantly increase revenue is to charge more for lunches," Price said. "If we left the price of lunch alone, we would run a deficit of $800,000 next year. We really believe we've got to look at an increase."
The price of lunch next year will increase from $1.25 to $1.50. Price said the system would need to charge $1.75 for the program to be self-supporting. The change would not affect breakfast or adult meal prices or those receiving free or reduced price lunches, which are subsidized by the federal government.
"We've got to look at some kind of phased in increase in lunch prices," he told the board. "We've got to increase revenues, and the only way to do that is to increase lunch prices."
Price said the budget deficit has been gradually growing over the past eight year as employees with experience have climbed up the pay scale.
"There's been dictated pay raises and you've had to meet those pay raises without any increase in cost," Price said.
The 25 cent increase would generate about $446,000 more in revenue. The system serves about 12,000 lunches a day.
This year to date, school nutrition services is operating at a $406,472 deficit. While the nutrition service started the year with a reserve balance of around $2 million, that deficit has munched that down to $1.6 million. Even with the 25-cent increase next year, budget projections show a deficit of $390,000 next year.
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