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Elizabeth Forward board approves budget with no tax increase

| Thursday, May 22, 2014, 2:06 a.m.

Elizabeth Forward School District's board of directors approved a $39,238,827 budget for fiscal 2014-15 on Wednesday with no increase in real estate taxes — and no need for a $3-a-ton landfill tax.

“We balanced the budget without that revenue,” director of finance and operations Richard Fantauzzi said before the 7-2 vote on the spending plan and 8-1 vote on retaining a 20.6052-mill tax rate.

“That revenue” could have come from a “landfill operations privilege tax” set up in a resolution approved in a 5-3 board vote on April 23.

The sole entity that would be covered by that tax is Waste Management's Kelly Run landfill along Route 51 in Forward Township.

The president of an organization representing Kelly Run and other landfills said the Local Tax Enabling Act of 1965 providing a basis for the tax was pre-empted by Act 101 of 1988 which established host municipality benefit fees.

Board president Philip Martell pointed out that the district has gone three years without a property tax hike. Director Megan Ferraro said it may be too tight of a plan not just for this year but for years to come.

She pointed to the state's Act 1 index. The school board voted earlier this year not to raise taxes beyond the rate set for the district by the state Department of Education, 0.618 mills.

As the district pointed out in a statement after the vote, there's an $829,000 increase in pension contributions within a budget only $402,000 or 1.04 percent larger than that for the year ending June 30.

Fantauzzi added another factor during a workshop preceding the vote: There was a $16 million reduction in property values because of appeals.

“That $16 million translates into $301,000 of real estate tax revenue,” the district finance director told the board, “so we will operate with $301,000 less.”

Ferraro and board vice president Michael O'Rourke voted no on the budget while O'Rourke voted no on the tax rate.

Ferraro and O'Rourke voted no on eliminating a kindergarten class at Central Elementary, a first grade at William Penn Elementary, a fourth grade at Mt. Vernon Elementary and one English class and half-credit Spanish and business education classes at the high school, while producing a kindergarten at William Penn, a second grade at Central, a fifth grade at Mt. Vernon and a half-credit of Spanish and half-credit Entertainment Technology Academy class at the high school.

Martell, board treasurer Charles Bakewell and directors Jamie Evans, Scott McVicker, Margaret Morgan, Francis Posa and Dorothy Wycoff voted yes.

O'Rourke attempted to table a $53,299 contract for Redrock Fence Inc. of White Oak to install a new fence at Wylie Field in Elizabeth. Ferraro and Evans joined him but Martell, Bakewell, McVicker, Morgan, Posa and Wycoff voted no. By that same 6-3 margin the board then approved the contract.

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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