Hampton School District OKs tax increase for technology

| Wednesday, June 19, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

In a vote last week, Hampton Township School District school board approved the 2013-14 budget with a slight increase over the lowered revenue-neutral rate, in part to fund the purchase of technology devices.

The school board approved the budget with an 8-1 vote, with Bryant Wesley dissenting.

As required of school districts across the county, Hampton officials “reset” the tax rate to a revenue-neutral millage to avoid a windfall of revenue from the countywide reassessment, or a decrease from 21.35 mills to 17.39 mills.

The school district's $43.8 million budget included a $608,764 deficit, which school board members opted to close by using $418,000 of the Public School Employees' Retirement System, or PSERS, stabilization fund and a 0.13-mill increase over the adjusted millage.

The board then recommended increasing the millage to 17.59, a 0.2-mill total increase, to generate an additional $100,000 for the district's technology needs. The increase still is within the Act 1 index, which establishes the maximum tax increase allowable for each school district without applying for an exception from the state Department of Education or seeking voter approval.

The 17.59 mills result in a property-tax bill of $1,759 for a resident with a home assessed at $100,000 and a $3,518 bill for a resident with a home assessed at $200,000.

“I'm uncomfortable increasing the millage rate to fund technology,” Wesley said. “I'm uncomfortable approving a budget with an additional tax increase, even though small; I'm not comfortable that it was tacked on at the last minute.”

The technology department had submitted a budget in May totaling about $500,000, down from an original $1 million and then submitted a priority list of the top 10 technology needs in the district, which totaled about $100,000.

“I saw this as technology needed but couldn't fit in the technology budget,” school board member Gail Litwiler said. “If we put it off for next year, we'll have the same issue or more because we don't have retirements.”

The district was able to balance the budget for the 2013-14 school year in part because of 19 teachers taking advantage of an early-retirement incentive offered by the district.

“I'm uncomfortable also with the $100,000, but when I weigh everything … I'm really nervous about next year,” school board member Mary Alice Hennessey said. “If there were no retirements, it would increase taxes a lot.”

Jeff Kline, director of administrative services, said taking advantage of the ability to increase the tax rate slightly now also might help the district in the future after having to reset the millage with several outstanding property assessment appeals.

In May alone, the county added 221 second chance appeals to Hampton's unknown assessment figures.

“The assessments are still a risk,” Kline said. “If you guess low (on the revenue neutral millage), you can't get that money back under Act 1.”

Bethany Hofstetter is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6364 or bhofstetter@tribweb.com.

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