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District's proposed budget calls for tax hike

| Friday, May 16, 2014, 2:12 p.m.

The Norwin School District is proposing a 2014-15 budget that would result in the third hike in property taxes in as many years.

The nearly $64 million spending plan unveiled at the school board's agenda workshop on Monday night allocates $1.319 million more (4.6 percent) than this year for salaries.

An additional $1.3-million is earmarked for contributions to the state's Public School Employees' Retirement System, which pays pensions for teachers and other school employees.

Salaries represent the largest expenditure in the budget — $29.8 million (46 percent), followed by $14.7 million (23 percent) for fringe benefits, $6.7 million (10 percent) to pay off debt and $3.5 million (6 percent) for transportation.

District officials are recommending that property taxes be increased by 1.85 mills next year, which is the largest amount that can be approved without seeking voter referendum.

The increase would bring the property-tax rate to 70.95 mills. For property valued at the district median assessment of $21,460, it would raise the annual tax bill from $1,483 to $1,522, an increase of $39.

The district raised taxes by 0.65 mills for the 2013-14 school year and 1.45 mills for the 2012-13 school year.

Revenue from real-estate taxes to fund next year's budget went up by $283,000 as a result of a $4.1 million increase in the assessed value of properties in the school district. Another $400,000 will come in as a result of the changes in the process used to collect earned income taxes that was instituted in 2012.

Superintendent William Kerr said the proposed budget is “fiscally responsible” and preserves or enhances educational programs.

“During the past three years we've cut $7 million out of our budgets,” he said. “In many cases (it's) because of limited state funding, or reduced federal funding.

“But I want to emphasize that the board and administration have managed the (district's) operations with fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers.”

None of the board members at Monday's meeting commented on whether they would support or reject the budget when it comes up for a vote May 19.

A final budget must be approved by June 30, which is the end of the fiscal year.

However, if state lawmakers fail to pass a budget before that date, districts would have the option of waiting until the state spending plan is approved before adopting a budget, according to John Wilson, the district's business manager.

Among the unknowns that could affect Norwin's proposed budget is a $698,500, one-time “Ready to Learn” basic education subsidy proposed by Gov. Tom Corbett.

Board member Raymond Kocak questioned if there was any value in waiting until the state budget is approved to ensure the governor's grant is available for the district.

School board President Robert J. Perkins suggested that the board proceed with a vote on the preliminary budget and if the grant is cut by the state, the district would look to make up the money by tapping into its fund balance or find another way to “make it up.”

Tony LaRussa is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-856-7400, ext. 8626, or at tlarussa@tribweb.com.

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