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Kiski Area prepared to limit any tax increase

| Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2013, 1:01 a.m.

As expected, the Kiski Area School Board has vowed to limit any tax increase next school year to 2.9 percent or less.

The state's tax increase ceiling limits the district to raising taxes by 2.4 mills in its Westmoreland County towns and 1.7 mills in Parks Township, Armstrong County. The current millage rates are 82.78 and 40.36, respectively.

Should the board choose to raise taxes to the state's maximum, the increase would generate nearly $600,000 for the district. That revenue would offset next school year's retirement costs, which are set to increase by $418,000.

Still, it's unclear whether the district will raise taxes at all, according to Business Manager Peggy Gillespie.

“To say anything at this point would be speculative,” she said. “We won't know whether taxes will be raised until the board really starts workshopping the preliminary budget in May. It's going to be a tough budget with the spike in the retirement rate, though.”

School districts' contributions to the state retirement plan for teachers and other state employees are expected to jump dramatically next year. Kiski Area has been among school districts that have been saving for next year's increase.

The state Department of Education calculates the maximum rate that school districts can levy each year based on several economic factors. Kiski Area's 2.9 percent maximum is about average for the Alle-Kiski Valley, with rates falling between 2.1 percent and 3.1 percent.

Board President Keith Blayden is cautiously optimistic that the district's contract with Consol Energy will help keep tax rates low.

The district collected its first Consol payment on Monday night after leasing the rights to the natural gas underneath the Kiski Area South Primary School in September. Rick Kurimsky presented the board with a $36,600 up-front payment for the five-year lease on the mineral rights underneath the former Mamont Elementary in Washington Township.

The district will collect a monthly royalty of 14.5 percent when Consol begins drilling from an offsite natural gas rig.

Kurimsky couldn't provide an estimated starting date for the operation.

Consol plans to drill into the Marcellus shale 7,000 feet below the elementary school from a rig about 5,000 feet south on Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County property, according to Kurimsky.

“It's tough to say how much energy can be extracted from the site or when drilling will actually begin,” he said, “but Kiski Area could be receiving a substantial amount of royalties from the project.”

School buildings

The future of the Laurel Point Elementary School building in Parks will be discussed next month at a public hearing.

The board will meet Jan. 23 in the Kiski Area administration building to discuss its contemplated closing and explore other options, according to Superintendent John Meighan.

He would not elaborate on what those other options entailed.

The school's closing has been in consideration since this year's reconfiguration of the district's seven elementary schools. The board will discuss, among other things, how its kindergarten through fourth-grade students would be distributed into the district's schools.

The future of the Washington Elementary school building, which will be vacant after this school year, will be discussed next month.

The board will vote Jan. 20 on whether it'll seek to sell the building privately, seek sealed bids or auction off the building.

The district auctioned its shuttered Bell-Avon Elementary School building in November for $11,000 under its $50,000 asking price.

The Washington Elementary building has not yet been appraised.

Braden Ashe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4673 or bashe@tribweb.com.

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