Steel Valley axes parking levy, raises taxes in prelim plan
By Michael DiVittorio
Published: Wednesday, May 26, 2010,
Steel Valley School District property owners should expect to pay more in real estate taxes next year.
School directors at Tuesday night's meeting unanimously approved a proposed 2010-11 budget with a tax hike of 2.86 mills, setting the millage at 24.07 mills.
The increase is the maximum allowed by the state, with a .86-mill increase through the Act 1 index and 2 mills allowed through special exemptions. Expenses are listed at $27,570,375 and revenue at $27,950,668, leaving an expected surplus of more than $380,000.
"I don't like it, but I had to approve it," school director Donald Bajus said.
The budget will be available for public review June 9, advertised for final adoption June 19, and up for a final vote June 29.
District business manager Mark Cherpak said the proposed budget contains all the revenue and expenses as listed at the last finance committee meeting.
Those figures are $11.2 million in local property taxes, $1 million from delinquent real estate collection, $800,000 from earned income tax, $100,000 from realty transfer tax and $200,000 in other local revenue.
State revenue includes $8.4 million in basic education subsidy, $1.3 million in special education subsidy, $1.1 million in state share FICA and retirement, $1 million in property tax relief, $600,000 in charter school reimbursement and $200,000 in other state revenue.
Approximately $1 million is budgeted in federal revenue, with the bulk of it in Title I funds.
Expenses budgeted include $12.5 million in salaries, $5.3 million in benefits, $3.7 million in costs for students at other facilities, $1.6 million for debt service, $1.2 million for operation of facilities, $1 million in retirement incentives, $800,000 for transportation, $600,000 for activities/athletics, $400,000 for supplies, $200,000 in insurance payments, $200,000 for substitute teachers, and $100,000 for miscellaneous expenses.
The current millage rate is 21.21 mills. The last tax increase for the district was from 18.92 mills in 2007-08 to the current rate.
District officials were considering a budget with a 2.23-mill tax increase, but that idea fell through once the board pulled a proposed parking tax off the agenda following a near 20-minute executive session for legal matters.
School directors said after the meeting that those legal matters included possible challenges by Waterfront businesses of the proposed parking tax.
The parking tax would have required commercial businesses to pay $30 per parking space exceeding 30.
Estimated revenue as a result of the tax was $240,000, and would have saved residents some money on real estate taxes.
"I'm not comfortable with what happened," school director Mike Terrick said. "I still think that there are certain sections of the town that aren't paying their fair share of real estate taxes, and this would have been a way to make it equitable.
"However, there are some potential legal issues that we have to be careful we don't cross over in the institution of the tax."
"I was definitely in favor of (the parking tax)," Bajus said. "I'm tired of taxing the taxpayers of this district.
"Unfortunately, there was some problems down there with people wanting to file appeals and challenge us on that tax. So we just took it off the agenda, and we'll see what happens now. It's a dead issue."
Terrick said the district would suffer a loss of revenue if the parking tax was challenged and the district lost.
"These were new issues that were brought up," Terrick said. "That's why I agreed to pull it."
He said customers would have had to pay 1 cent in additional costs to cover the amount of the parking tax.
There were some Waterfront business representatives in the audience Tuesday night, but they left shortly after the parking tax was pulled from the agenda.
District officials said the parking tax cannot be considered again until next year because the district does not have enough time to advertise and properly institute the tax.
Bajus said the board will take a strong look at teacher contract negotiations when dealing with 2011-12 budget planning.
"Definitely teacher contracts and Act 93 contracts," Bajus said. "Previous school boards gave this district away to the union, and we can't afford it any more.
"The day of reckoning has come. All over the country you are seeing we can't afford these union contracts anymore. They have to wise up. These people have to wake up and smell the roses."
Teacher contracts expire at the end of next school year.
Bajus cannot be on a negotiating committee because his daughter is a teacher.
Cherpak said the district is expected to have a fund balance of $18,000 at the end of the year.
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