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Tax hike proposed for Franklin Regional

| Monday, May 5, 2014, 10:18 a.m.

Franklin Regional administrators are asking the school board to OK a 0.83-mill tax hike for next school year.

Director of Finance Jon Perry outlined the district's preliminary budget April 28 and said the plan includes a rate hike that would raise the tax bill of the average home by $29.

“We have to look at things in a more long-term perspective,” Perry said. “If you're committed to maintaining the programs we have now, modest increases — year over year — are sometimes needed.”

The district raised taxes for 10 consecutive years until last May, when officials held the line. Perry said that during the past decade, the average tax increase has been 1.49 mills per year, the equivalent of a $52 hike per year for homes with the district average assessment of $35,000.

District officials have been particularly cautious in the past five years, Perry said, raising taxes by an average of 1.33 percent, which is below the 2-percent consumer price index of inflation from the same time frame.

“In the past, the board has taken a conscientious effort to take small bites at the apple over time rather than have more volatility,” Perry said.

The philosophy about tax increases throughout the region has changed since Perry came to the district in 2011, he said.

“You'd see four to five years of zero tax increase. It keeps the citizens happy, then you really whack them with a big year,” Perry said he was advised by other business managers. “Regardless of what the increase is, they're going to be unhappy. But that's not a reality anymore.”

Under Act 1 – the state legislation that distributes gambling revenue to districts – the state limits how much school boards can raise the tax rate each year.

Compounded with mandatory increases to the district's payment to the under-funded Public School Employees' Retirement System, school officials are forced to face dire financial realities, Perry said.

Just to meet the district's growing payment during the next six school years – without taking other cost increases into consideration – officials would need to raise the tax rate between 0.76 and 0.83 mills annually.

The fiscally conservative majority on school board — including four members who took the oath of office in December and will be voting on their first budget this year — didn't react or respond to Perry's recommendation, but board member Roberta Cook said it makes sense to consider the proposition.

“So your thinking is take the 0.83, put that somewhere to hold it, and use it next year to help balance the budget,” Cook said.

Daveen Rae Kurutz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8627, or dkurutz@tribweb.com.

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