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South Hills

West Jefferson Hills final budget to include tax hike

| Saturday, June 9, 2018, 12:30 p.m.

West Jefferson Hills School District leaders say they are making “noticeable” changes to the district's 2018-19 budget, prior to its final adoption later this month.

Board members on May 22 approved the district's 2018-19 $53.3 million proposed final budget that outlined a preliminary tax increase for the upcoming school year of .607 mills.

That would take the district's real estate tax rate from 20.236 mills in 2017-18 to the state issued index of 3 percent, or 20.843 mills, for 2018-19. That would equal a roughly $60 a year real estate tax increase for a $100,000 assessed property.

This would be the sixth straight year West Jefferson Hills has raised its real estate tax rate to the state issued index, citing future increases to debt service payments for the new $95 million Thomas Jefferson High School being constructed on 161 acres on Old Clairton Road.

Under the state's Act 1, 3 percent is the highest the district is allowed to raise its real estate tax rate for 2018-19 without seeking voter approval through referendum, or referendum exceptions from the state Department of Education.

West Jefferson Hills did neither.

“The elementary reconfiguration, new district projects and the hiring of additional staff greatly impacted the budgeting process,” Tracy Harris, director of finance, said in an email to the South Hills Record. “Therefore, the final budget numbers to be presented at the June school board meeting will be noticeably different from the preliminary figures.”

The district is in the midst of reconfiguring its three elementary schools for 2018-19. It also is tackling numerous security upgrades and is constructing an addition to Gill Hall Elementary to meet its growing needs.

District leaders this week said updated numbers were not available, as they are still working through the process.

Harris will present the final budget at the school board's June 19 work session.

The final budget is scheduled to be voted on at the board's June 26 meeting.

The proposed final budget included $53.3 million in expenditures for 2018-19, an increase of 6.31 percent from the $50.1 million the district was forecasted to spend in 2017-18, based on a May budget presentation.

The budget also included a nearly $900,000 deficit, with total preliminary revenues listed at $52.4 million. Revenues in the district are anticipated to increase by $1.1 million for 2018-19, or 2.17 percent, according to a May budget presentation.

The final 2018-19 West Jefferson Hills budget will be balanced, Harris said.

The district, which is projected to have a $33.9 million fund balance as of June 30, 2018, has been planning ahead for increased debt service payments for the high school project for several years. It has borrowed and increased taxes for several years to fund the project.

In 2018-19, debt service payments for the new high school project will increase by$1.7 million.

The district anticipates having $109.6 million in outstanding debt as of June 30, based on the May budget presentation. Anticipated debt service payments for 2018-19 are listed at $5.8 million.

Salaries in the district will increase by $1.2 million for 2018-19, per the budget presentation from May.

However, Harris noted in her statement, that the elementary reconfigurations and new hires will affect numbers like this.

Health insurance costs are set to increase by $256,754, while retirement contribution costs from the district will go up by $518,524 next year.

Regular education costs — which are not defined — will increase by nearly $1 million, based on the May budget presentation.

Maintenance costs also will increase by $1.4 million, per the May budget presentation. That is attributed to additional staff being hired to support the new high school, along with the cost of maintaining the old high school.

Stephanie Hacke is a Tribune-Review contributor.

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