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Apollo-Ridge leaves door open for tax increase

| Tuesday, April 29, 2014, 7:17 a.m.

Any tax increase the Apollo-Ridge School District might levy to help cover the $22.9 million officials expect to spend next school year would not exceed the state's 3.1 percent limit.

The proposed spending plan, which is subject to change before June 30, represents a 5.6 percent increase over the current year's $21.7 million budget.

The majority of the additional $1.2 million, Business Manager Jennie Ivory said, stems from increasing costs related to salaries and benefits.

While the proposed budget projects expenses to exceed revenues by at least $1 million, Ivory said it's “too early in the process” to say whether the district will raise taxes.

“It's a moving target,” she said. “It's difficult to say right now what needs to happen. The school board and the district will have a better idea after the May 19 budget workshop.”

If officials choose not to raise taxes and can't trim the 2014-15 budget by the end of June, the district would be faced with a $1.7 million deficit.

Should the district raise taxes by the 3.1 percent maximum set by the state, it would generate an additional $200,000. That would leave the district with $1.5 million left to cut for a balanced budget.

There have been no discussions, Ivory said, about cutting particular services or programs.

“It's typical to have loose figures at this time of the year that you have to work with,” Ivory said. “The state requires that you have a preliminary budget in May, and obviously nothing is final until the end of June.”

The highest that tax rates could increase in the district's Armstrong County communities is 2.1 mills, from 60.8 to 62.9.

In Young Township, the district's only Indiana County municipality, a maximum increase would raise the millage rate from 167.7 to 171.1, or 3.4 mills.

The difference between county figures is the result of a state formula that multi-county districts must use to equalize the tax rates. The formula, which is calculated based on various economic factors, would lead to a decrease of 2.5 mills in Young Township if the district doesn't raise taxes, according to Ivory.

The costs related to salaries and benefits that are predicted to rise most dramatically are health insurance and retirement rate changes.

The district expects to see a 13 percent, or $295,000, jump in health insurance and retirement rates will likely increase by about $485,000.

If officials manage to effectively balance the budget with room left over next month, the district could add a physics teacher, Vice President Forrest Schultz said.

“That's something we wouldn't advertise until after the final budget is approved and we know we can do it,” he said. “It's based on a district need, though.”

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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