West Jefferson Hills board begins budget process

| Wednesday, May 1, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

West Jefferson Hills School Board members last week got their first peek at the district's 2013-14 budget.

Now they must decide if they want to hold the line on taxes for next school year or raise the property-tax rate to the state-allowed index.

Director of finance Tracy Harris distributed copies of the administrative budget — or the first look at the district's finance plan — to school board members at their April 23 meeting. The $40 million revenue-neutral budget — up from $37.8 million in 2012-13 — includes a 37-percent increase in retirement contributions from the 2012-13 school year and increases to health insurance rates.

Many of the numbers are likely to change before the board votes on the preliminary budget in May and final draft in June, Harris said.

“That is a work in progress,” she said. “There's a lot of things going on here.”

District officials are working to determine how to finance several construction and facilities projects, including the building of a $73 million high school.

Options presented to the board in the last few months have included a “phased-in” tax increase — raising the millage up to a state-allowed index each year — or seeking voter permission, through a referendum, either for the construction of a new high school or to allow the district to go above the index. District officials have not increased the millage since the 2008-09 school year.

In 2013-14, the tax rate can be raised only by the state index of 2.2 percent. Board members in December agreed not to go above the index for the upcoming school year.

First, though, the 21.08 millage, must be reduced to “revenue neutral,” meaning the district does not receive additional money because of the court-ordered countywide reassessments.

Several assessment appeals, including multiple large, commercial properties, are outstanding, Harris said.

If the district were to pass a revenue-neutral tax rate today, the millage would be adjusted to 17.46, Harris said.

That likely will change.

Once a revenue-neutral rate is set, the school board has a choice to raise the rate by 2.2 percent, Harris said.

“They would need to discuss that and see if they want to do that,” she said.

The board has until the end of June to make that decision.

Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or shacke@tribweb.com.

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