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Penn-Trafford board considers 2-mill tax increase

| Wednesday, May 14, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

An estimated $800,000 spike in pension expenses — only half of which the state would reimburse — might lead the Penn-Trafford School Board to raise the property-tax rates by 2 mills to balance the next budget.

Heading toward the board's final vote on the budget on June 19, district officials say the proposed increase might be necessary to help to close a $450,000 gap in the estimated $50-million spending plan.

Officials project expenses to rise by $792,322, or 1.6 percent, despite a nearly $900,000 drop in the district's debt service next year.

Board members have said over the past year that they didn't want to raise the tax rate for an upcoming high school remodeling project, but they've conceded that they might have to boost the tax rate because of other costs. An increase of 2 mills would be slightly below the maximum available to the district through an inflation-based index approved by the state.

Pension costs have been increasing for all districts over the past decade. For the 2014-15 school year, the Public School Employees' Retirement System is requiring districts to contribute 21.4 percent of an employee's retirement benefits, up from 16.9 percent in 2013-14.

In 2018, the percentage is scheduled to jump to 32 percent, said Brett Lago, the district's director of financial planning and business affairs.

Just three years ago, districts were responsible for 8.65 percent.

“I don't know where it's going to end up,” school board President Toni Ising said. “It's going to cripple school districts eventually.”

If approved, this would be the third tax increase in five years. For the owner of a district home in Westmoreland County with a median assessed value of $27,880, an increase to 76.85 mills would cost another $56 in taxes.

The tax-rate increase for the Trafford properties that are in Allegheny County would be slightly less than 2 mills, from 14.43 to 16.36. The owner of a district home in that county with a median assessed value of $76,500 would pay an additional of $148.

District administrators, including Lago and Superintendent Matt Harris, said they will review the budget over the next month to determine if there are any ways to cut spending to lower a potential millage increase.

One option, Lago said, might be to delay some regularly scheduled maintenance in the district.

“We can bring you back some ideas,” Lago told school board members Monday evening. “They might not be good ideas.”

Wages for custodians and various aides in the district will be frozen as part of a contract approved last fall.

Meanwhile, the contract for the district teachers union ends on June 30. The teachers have rejected requests for wage freezes in past years.

Chris Foreman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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