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Leechburg Area School Board petitions for tax increase

| Friday, Feb. 14, 2014, 1:26 a.m.

The Leechburg Area School Board is petitioning the state to raise 2014-15 taxes beyond the 3 percent rate the district was limited to in December.

Next school year's preliminary budget, which the board passed 6-0 on Thursday, calls for a 4.2 percent tax increase in Armstrong County and a 3.2 percent hike in West Leechburg, Westmoreland County.

The rates are subject to change, but the proposed increases would raise district real estate taxes by 2.75 mills, to 67.65 mills in Armstrong County, and by 3.41, to 109.97 mills in West Leechburg.

The board was required to pass its $13.6 million preliminary budget by a Feb. 19 deadline because the district is seeking an exemption for rising retirement costs on the state's 3 percent index.

The district's retirement costs are projected to jump $304,000 next year. Despite the board capping wage increases at 3 percent, Business Manager Mark Lukacs is expecting an increase of $190,000.

Health care costs are projected to jump 10 percent, or $195,000.

The proposed tax increases, Leechburg Area's first in four years, will generate about $260,000 for the district to help offset its additional costs.

Prior to the state passing in 2006 the Taxpayer Relief Act, also known as Act 1, districts weren't required to pass a preliminary budget until May. Lukacs said passing a preliminary budget in February presents challenges because it's unclear at this time of the year what type of funding it will receive from the governor's budget.

“We're between a rock and a hard place,” he said. “Obviously, we never want to raise taxes, but we have to be prepared for the worst.

“These figures might drop significantly by the time (the budget) is finalized in June — it all depends.”

The administration will meet Feb. 20 to work on trimming the budget, said interim Superintendent Frank Prazenica. The board will hold a budget workshop meeting on March 10.

Lukacs said it was unclear from which areas the district would likely make cuts.

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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