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Ligonier Valley board proposes 1.5 mill increase

| Wednesday, May 14, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Ligonier Valley School District residents could see a 1.5-mill increase in school taxes.

District board members voted 5-4 to adopt a $28.2 million preliminary budget on Monday night that brings the real estate millage rate to 76.5 mills. The budget estimates revenues at $27.7 million, and it proposes using $514,822 from the district's fund balance to cover expenditures.

The district's average taxpayer, or those with homes with an assessed valuation of $16,890, would face an increase of $25.34 annually. One mill brings in about $169,000 to the district, and there are 4,745 properties in the district.

Business manager Michelle Krebs said the school currently has just over $4 million in its fund balance, so with the proposed budget, it would reduce to $3.5 million.

Krebs kept Gov. Tom Corbett's proposed Ready to Learn Grant in the budget, from which the district could receive $131,000, but the budget's numbers could change when state lawmakers pass a budget.

There are “no huge items” being cut in the budget, Krebs said, and wages and benefits are the biggest increases. He said he would vote for a 1-mill increase.

Included in the budget is the roof replacement purchase for Laurel Valley Elementary School, for which the school budgeted $250,000 this year and $386,000 next year.

Board president Bruce Robinson suggested paying for the roof out of the school's fund balance.

Board member Irvin Tantlinger expressed concern about the rising costs of PSERS, the state's public school retirement system.

“We need to make sure we have enough in our fund balance to hopefully cover that without increasing taxes again next year,” he said.

Superintendent Dr. Chris Oldham said the board's budget discussion was appropriate.

“I think they're asking for more information, which is good, and (Krebs) will get that out to them,” she said.

The board could choose to reduce the millage increase, Krebs said. She is going to provide the board with figures for the lesser increase before the next board meeting when they will vote to pass a final budget.

In the next few years, Krebs said she is concerned about the rising costs of health care and PSERS. Her proposal included projections for 2015-16 and 2016-17.

“They're two significant, high-cost areas that will go up, and wages go up,” she said.

“Anymore in school business, you can't just look at one year,” she said. “You have to project out. The PSERS rate is going significantly higher...If districts aren't prudent with looking out in the future and planning, then they could be in a lot of trouble because they will eat that fund balance up just like that and then where do you turn?”

Another item that could affect future budgets is the school's technology grant from The Richard King Mellon Foundation, which is scheduled to run out at the end of 2015, Krebs said. The grant made the school's iPad initiative possible.

“Right now, we have a cost and we have a revenue, and they're a matc, the grant and the cost,” she said. “It's a match. There is a zero difference, but after 2015 there's no revenue, but there's the cost.”

Krebs said the school faces a challenge when revenues are not increasing at the pace of expenditures.

“Unless the state steps up, you can't keep going to local taxes,” she said. “Sixty percent of our revenue is local funds. It's hard to say, ‘Let's go to local funds.' People can't sustain that either. You have to look at really all your options at that point because it's going to look a lot worse going into the future, and all schools are experiencing this.”

The budget will be available for review at the district's administration office.

The next meeting is 7 p.m. June 11 with a work session at 6 p.m.

Nicole Chynoweth is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2862 or