Franklin Regional officials say tax hike might be avoided
Zero might be the magic number for Franklin Regional officials in the 2013-14 budget.
District officials this week said they are considering holding the line on taxes for the first time since 2002-03 school year.
“This is the healthiest we've looked in the last few years,” board member Paul Scheinert said. “This is a very, very healthy picture compared to two or three years ago.”
On Monday, Director of Finance Jon Perry presented a $49.46 million preliminary budget that includes a 1-mill tax rate increase. That number was conservative, Perry said, and could be reduced to zero by the time the board approves its final budget on June 17.
“It's easier to work downwards,” Perry said. “It's our goal to reduce that number. We have another month-and-a-half.”
In total, the district has worked its way from an anticipated deficit of nearly $2 million to about $445,000. Perry recommended the district use a 1-mill tax rate increase and about $110,000 from the district's reserve fund to balance the budget.
But Board President Herb Yingling has another idea. As the board prepares to refinance a bond issue, Yingling suggested using some of the money the district will save from that process to balance the budget. Most of the expected $1.8 million that the district would receive from that is slated to be designated for capital improvements.
Long-time board member Roberta Cook liked that idea and suggested the board leave a 1-mill increase in the preliminary budget only as a placeholder.
“You could argue that we're in the best, or at least better, financial situation that most school districts in the county,” Cook said. “I believe this shows the value of staying the course.”
Board member Joe Seymour warned the board that the situation might be too good to be true.
“I don't mean to be a negative nelly here, but the largest part of our budget is personnel,” Seymour said. “This is a year with high retirements and low healthcare prices, (and) we still have a 3.73 percent increase (in personnel costs). We need to remember that.”
Seymour might be right, Perry said. The amount of funding the district will receive from the state has not been finalized and might not be determined until after the board is required to pass its final budget in June. Perry said that amount might decrease if pension reform is not enacted by the legislature.
Resident George Meert said he is very happy that the board is considering a low hike or not raising the tax rate at all.
“I don't pretend to represent the retired or the old geezers of Murrysville, but I am one of them,” Meert said. “Everything you can do to hold the line on tax increases is greatly appreciated by the senior citizens I know.”
The board will meet May 20 to approve a preliminary budget. The final budget will be discussed on June 2 and approved on June 17. All meetings are at 7:30 p.m. in the administrative offices.
Daveen Rae Kurutz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8627, or firstname.lastname@example.org.