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Kiski Area plans no property tax increase

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Tuesday, May 7, 2013, 12:51 a.m.
 

The Kiski Area School District will not increase real estate taxes for the coming school year, despite a deficit of more than $3 million in the preliminary $52.69 million budget for 2013-14.

Tax rates will change slightly because of the formula used to equalize them between the district's Westmoreland and Armstrong County communities.

In Westmoreland County, the property tax will increase from 82.78 mills to 82.83 mills. That's an increase of a scant 0.06 percent.

In Parks Township, Armstrong County, the tax rate would decrease from 40.73 mills to 40.36 mills. That's a cut of less than 1 percent.

The district cannot raise property taxes because its $4.37 million in unassigned reserves is at the 8 percent limit set by the state, Business Manager Peggy Gillespie said.

As presented to the school board Monday, the district would use $1.54 million from that fund toward the deficit. Gillespie said she expects the amount to come down with spending cuts between now and passage of the final budget in June.

The rest of the deficit, $1.59 million, would be covered from the district's assigned reserves.

Covering the entire $3.13 million deficit with property taxes would have taken a tax increase of 12.6 mills — an increase of nearly 6 percent.

Even if the district could increase taxes, it was limited to 1.99 mills by its state-imposed inflation index, Gillespie said.

Superintendent John Meighan said the district is nearing the end of being able to balance budgets with reserves.

“If the trend continues ... we, along with other districts, will be looking at hard choices down the road,” he said.

Those choices could include the wholesale elimination of non-mandated programs — athletics, full-day kindergarten, business and technology education, family and consumer science, and elementary art, music and physical education.

The district could consider raising money through advertising, selling buildings, hiring a grant writer and enacting fees for athletics, secondary activities and instructional materials.

None of those measures are being contemplated for next school year's budget, Meighan said.

But board member David Anderson said the time is coming to talk about them, because, “This time next year, we're cutting programs,” he said. “We have to start looking this year.”

Board member Elizabeth Kovach agreed with Director Tammy Smail that the board has its work cut out for it. Smail said the district needs to look into alternative revenue sources.

“We need to be looking to the future,” Kovach said.

Budget details

The preliminary $52.69 million budget represents a nearly 6 percent increase in spending from the district's projected spending of $49.76 million for 2012-13.

Major spending increases total about $2.34 million.

Contractual or mandated spending increases, totaling $1.82 million, include about $935,000 for retirements, $400,000 for special education, $250,000 for transportation and $236,000 for salaries.

Part of the increase in transportation costs is due to the district's new upper elementary school opening this fall, and the need to bus Vandergrift-area elementary students to Washington Elementary while the Vandergrift school is being renovated, Gillespie said.

Discretionary increases of about $520,000 include about $130,000 for instructional and technology equipment and about $390,000 for textbooks. Part of that is, again, for the new curriculum at the upper elementary school, Gillespie said.

Spending cuts of about $1.12 million include $300,000 less for charter school tuition, $370,000 less from personnel retirements, $200,000 in retirement savings and moving about $250,000 in building projects to the district's capital reserve fund.

The district will not replace four retiring professional employees and one secretary.

The district's 2013-14 revenue is forecast at $49.56 million, which Gillespie said is about $885,500 less than it should be.

The state's moratorium on building reimbursements will cost the district $765,000; the federal sequestration is costing about $120,500.

Gillespie said the district is collecting more in property taxes as well as current and delinquent earned income taxes.

The school board will vote on the preliminary budget May 20. The final vote will be taken on June 24.

Brian C. Rittmeyer is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4701 or brittmeyer@tribweb.com.

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