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Penn-Trafford board gives preliminary — and tentative — OK to no tax hike

| Wednesday, May 8, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

The scope of building improvements at the high school — and possibility of another building project after that — might determine whether the Penn-Trafford School Board raises the property-tax rate in the budget it passes next month.

Though the school board on Monday unanimously approved a $49.3-million preliminary budget that didn't include a tax increase, some board members acknowledged they might have to raise more revenue to prepare for the high school remodeling and other potential construction projects.

The board plans to discuss the extent of the high school improvements at its next meeting, which is set for Monday at 7 p.m. in the high school library.

District officials have estimated a project could cost $30 million, but they haven't specified all of the work that they are considering.

Another project to be considered after the one at the high school could involve a building consolidation or other reconfiguration that could lead to work on another building.

Board member Bruce Newell said officials estimate the district could borrow about $40 million over a 20-year period without raising the property-tax rate, but a state moratorium on reimbursement for school-construction projects has him struggling to determine how Penn-Trafford can afford it.

“I have big concerns about not just this project but the next one, and how we deal with it,” Newell said.

Superintendent Tom Butler told board members that funding the scope of a project “that some may want is virtually impossible with your current millage.”

Board member Toni Ising said she would like to have district officials pursue a project without a tax increase. Her colleague, Phil Kochasic, said he implores taxpayers to contact their school-board representatives to give their opinion.

“We have a very important decision to make, and we have to get it right,” he said.

At $49.3 million, expenses in the 2013-14 preliminary budget are projected to go up by just 1.3 percent. If the board follows through by not increasing taxes at its vote on June 10, the property-tax rate would be 74.85 mills for most district residents and 14.43 mills for the relatively few Trafford properties that are in Allegheny County.

In Westmoreland County, the owner of a home with the median assessed value of $25,030, pays $1,873 a year in property taxes with the current rate. In Allegheny County, the owner of a home assessed at $75,000 would pay $1,082 a year with a millage of 14.43.

The draft plan includes a $3.9 million fund balance, though $2.4 million of that previously was designed for the district's pension contributions or a construction project.

Penn-Trafford is saving about $800,000 by not hiring new people to replace seven of nine retiring teachers, eliminating the human-resources position and altering its school-psychologist services.

However, the district's net contribution to the state retirement pension plan is increasing by another $533,155 in the budget. At $1.9 million in the budget, that's about $975,000 higher than two years ago.

Chris Foreman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8671, or cforeman@tribweb.com.

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