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Annual tax hikes could be in store in West Jefferson Hills

| Wednesday, April 17, 2013, 4:36 a.m.

West Jefferson Hills School District residents could be in for annual, fractional tax hikes through 2019-20 to cover a new or renovated Thomas Jefferson High School.

“No matter which option we choose, it is going to cost money,” WJH school board president Anthony Angotti said on Tuesday night.

But the impact of that option may be eased by past district decisions.

“Several years ago you did a very smart thing, setting money aside,” said consultant Pat Sable, a former area school district business manager who now heads Sable Solutions LLC.

“We have traditionally come in under budget,” board vice president Shauna D'Alessandro said. “We've brought in more revenue than we expected.”

Sable and Public Financial Management Inc. director Jamie Doyle presented “Funding Options and the Millage Impact of Potential Capital Projects Under Consideration.”

They cover property tax increases as well as bond issues that may be needed for a $60 million renovation or $73 million rebuilding of the high school.

At this time, the consultants said, the district's non-electoral borrowing capacity is $48.9 million, or $53.7 million with subsidized debt exclusions.

“Project financing can spread out over several borrowings,” according to the “Funding Options” report, which will be available sometime this week on the www.wjhsd.net website.

The consultants said the district could weather the needed indebtedness.

“The district has an excellent credit rating,” Doyle said. “Your credit rating is so good you haven't been paying for bond insurance.”

The two consultants said interest rates for bonds remain near all-time lows and the district could lock in a rate of approximately 2.5 percent.

Still, they see a need to increase revenue to pay for the bonds.

“I would strongly encourage you to increase up to the Act 1 index each year,” Doyle said.

Act 1 sets limits on how much a district can raise its property taxes without requiring a referendum.

For West Jefferson Hills it is 2.2 percent, or 0.38 mills, for the 2013-14 school year.

The rate at the end of 2019-20 could be lower than this year's rate, but still mean higher tax bills because of Allegheny County's 2012 reassessment.

If a budget for 2013-14 were passed today, the West Elizabeth-Jefferson Hills-Pleasant Hills district would have to lower its base rate from 21.08 to 17.46 mills, then it could raise it to 17.84 mills.

On average, pending appeals still being heard by county officials, West Jefferson Hills properties went up in value by 31 percent.

Values rose on average by 37 percent in West Mifflin Area, 35 in Clairton, 25 in Elizabeth Forward, 24 in Baldwin-Whitehall and 22 percent in South Park Township.

Doyle and Sable do not expect the district to be able to get state aid for portions of the construction or renovation costs.

“We have not depended on state reimbursement,” Doyle said, citing declines in state aid in recent years.

School officials hoped more residents would turn out for Tuesday's workshop. Approximately 30 residents stayed for the hour-long presentation by Sable and Doyle.

Later, during the workshop, district architect Ryan Pierce presented a 2-inch-thick proposal for a master plan for future construction.

Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1967, or pcloonan@tribweb.com.

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