5 districts approved for extra tax money
By Liz Hayes
Published: Sunday, May 12, 2013, 12:33 a.m.
State education officials granted five Alle-Kiski Valley school districts permission to raise property taxes higher than their inflation rates for next school year.
Armstrong, Franklin Regional, Freeport Area, New Kensington-Arnold and Riverview school districts were approved for higher tax increases for the 2013-14 school year because of rising pension obligations, special-education costs or both.
Act 1 of 2006 requires districts to keep tax hikes within an inflation-based cap determined by the state. In exchange, district residents get a cut of state gambling revenue in the form of reduced tax bills.
Locally, tax-increase caps ranged from 1.7 percent for Allegheny Valley and Fox Chapel Area school districts to 2.5 percent for Apollo-Ridge, Highlands and New Kensington-Arnold.
However, districts can request permission from the state Department of Education to raise taxes above the cap if they can demonstrate a hardship due to increasing costs for special education, contributions to employee pension funds or pre-existing debt for school construction.
If the state does not grant the exceptions, districts have the option of seeking voter approval through a ballot referendum. Otherwise, districts must trim their budgets to fit within the cap.
“The law is a balancing act between residents' ability to pay taxes versus what schools need to continue operating,” said Tim Eller, spokesman for the Education Department. “It's there to keep school boards from increasing spending at alarming rates without giving voters a say or having it subject to checks and balances.”
Statewide, about half of the 171 districts asking for exceptions were granted the full amount requested.
All five Alle-Kiski Valley districts that requested exceptions received permission to exceed the inflation cap.
But only Riverview was granted the full amount — 0.3811 mills, or about $200,000 in revenue.
Riverview Business Manager Frank Thompson said he expects at least some of the additional levy will be used to balance the budget.
He said the current total millage rate is proposed at 21.239 mills, but he said that could change before the final budget is passed next month.
Although the proposed millage figure is lower than the current year's rate, taxpayers would see a tax increase because of Allegheny County's property reassessment.
New Kensington-Arnold Business Manager Jeff McVey said officials there will be able to work with the extra 1.7035 mills, or about $200,000, granted for pension costs. The district had requested an additional 2.6325 mills, or about $316,000.
With the exceptions, New Kensington-Arnold is proposing a total tax increase of about 3.5 mills, or about 4.7 percent.
“As the funding becomes clearer, it may allow us to adjust some decisions that were made,” board President Bob Pallone said. “It's very difficult. The governor's continued assault on public education is really making it difficult on property owners.”
Pallone said this is the first year the district has requested exceptions.
Freeport Area has requested exceptions in the past, but this the first time they may be used, Business Manager Bill Reilly said.
The school board last week approved a preliminary budget that would increase Armstrong County taxes by a total of 3.4 mills, or 6.5 percent, and Butler County taxes by 5.9 mills, or about 5 percent.
Reilly said the exceptions would provide an additional $300,000 for special-education and pension costs — all but about $50,000 of the extra revenue requested.
Armstrong School District has the biggest gap between what was requested in exceptions and what was granted: Only about $600,000 was granted of the $2.2 million requested.
Superintendent Stan Chapp and Business Manager John Zenone did not respond to requests for comment.
Franklin Regional was granted most of its requested exceptions for pension costs, but likely won't use them. The district is permitted to levy an additional 1.4853 mills in taxes for about $500,000.
“We had to make that decision on whether or not to apply for the exception,” said Jon Perry, the district's business manager. “We have no intention of utilizing it.”
During the 2012-13 school year, districts statewide spend only about 30 percent of approved exceptions, or $48 million of $160 million.
Liz Hayes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4680 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Trib writers Amanda Dolasinski and Tony LaRussa contributed to this report.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Lower Burrell restaurant’s noise subject of Liquor Control Board hearing
- 2 serious in New Ken stabbings
- New Kensington-Arnold lays groundwork for consolidation
- Apollo proposes wide-ranging ordinance on rental properties
- Ballot issue to seek 0.25-mill property tax increase to support Springdale Free Public Library
- Butler County Commissioners OK display of ‘In God We Trust’ in meeting room
- Oakmont council OKs Speedway project
- Leechburg adds 2 part-time police officers
- A-K Valley students offer Franklin Regional ‘strong’ support
- Former Apollo police Chief Breznican scheduled for release from Armstrong County Jail
- Wanted Oakmont man jailed in Nevada