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Deer Lakes School Board schedules tax increase vote

| Wednesday, May 15, 2013, 1:31 a.m.

The Deer Lakes School Board will vote next week on whether to increase taxes by 1.7 percent for the 2013-14 school year.

Business Manager Dennis Thimons presented a $32.1 million spending plan Tuesday. It would increase the district's millage in its 2013-14 budget from 22.02 to 22.39.

Even with the tax increase, the budget contains a $210,000 deficit. Without the hike, the deficit would be about $533,000.

Reserve funds would be used to cover the deficit.

The budget represents about a $730,000 increase over this year.

“I would strongly request we do increase millage,” Thimons said.

Payments to the Public School Employees' Retirement System (PSERS) are set to increase by 30 percent for next school year.

“PSERS, it's deadly,” Thimons said, “and it's only going to get worse, and we are headed for some real trouble,”

Given current costs, Thimons said if the board does nothing to curb expenses or bring in more revenue, five years from now the district could be about $8 million in the red.

The property tax revenue calculations are estimates due to Allegheny County's reassessment, said Thimons. About 200 properties in the district are in the appeals process and collection rates typically decline in reassessment years.

“This is my best guess given the history,” he told board members.

The district is not permitted to collect a windfall of taxes following a reassessment, so the district must adjust millage accordingly.

Board members said they're concerned about the district's ability to survive given expenses, the stagnant tax base and that the board tries to keep up by increasing property taxes.

“We have a cost structure we can't afford,” said board President Lisa Merlo.

She said she hasn't made up her mind about whether she'll support the tax increase.

“Maybe getting a tax increase now will buy us some time to generate ideas going forward,” she said. “My goal was to get people thinking. This is going to a very important vote.”

The board will vote on the proposed budget on Monday.

School security

The board is considering implementing additional school safety measures that were outlined at a safety workshop in February.

District architect HHSDR Architects/Engineers provided plans to secure the middle school and East Union Intermediate and Curtisville Primary entrances.

The construction costs total an estimated $120,000, with $35,000 for design fees and permits. The modifications would funnel visitors directly into the office.

Deer Lakes High School already has such an entrance.

The renovations include new door access-control hardware, aluminum or hollow metal entrance frames and doors and wall, floor and ceiling modifications.

If the project began next January, construction would be completed in August.

Board members were divided on the effectiveness of the renovations.

“In the beginning I really wanted to do this,” Merlo said. “Then, the more I thought about it, if we have a system that's working right now and they're outside and they can't get in, then how does that differ from letting someone in halfway and then you address them there?”

Garry Dixson, the district's director of buildings and grounds, said if the board wants to take measures to improve security, entrance improvements are the most economical option.

The district is considering spending about $6,400 to install security software in all four schools. Web-based technology from Raptor Technologies, of Houston, Texas, allows schools to scan a visitor's driver's license or other state-issued identification and the system instantly checks sex-offender registries nationwide. It can also screen for restraining orders or custody issues that would prohibit someone from picking up or visiting a child.

Jodi Weigand is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4702 or jweigand@tribweb.com.

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