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Homer-Center School Disttrict seeks permission to exceed limit for potential property tax hike of 5.8 mills

| Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013, 9:32 p.m.

Homer-Center School District will seek permission from the state Department of Education to increase real estate tax millage above the Act 1 index for the 2013-14 fiscal year, according to a preliminary district budget put on display last week.

At its Jan. 24 meeting, the school board authorized district business manager Greg Cessna to publish the preliminary budget, which indicates a tax increase of the 3.01 mills allowable under the state's Act 1 index as well as an application for exceptions that would allow an additional increase of 2.85 mills above the index.

Cessna indicated the district intends to seek an exception based on costs it faces to cover employee retirement benefits. “Going through the rough estimates, I do not believe we would even be eligible for the special education exception,” he added.

The application for Act 1 exceptions is a safeguard, according to school officials, and the district does not intend to raise taxes above the index unless unexpected circumstances require the revenue.

The district would generate $121,501 in tax revenue by exceeding the Act 1 index by 2.85 mills.

Districts must have a preliminary budget in place 110 days before the next primary election in order to qualify for Act 1 exceptions.

Further complicating budget planning is the fact that state funding to the district will remain a mystery until Governor Tom Corbett releases a proposed state budget later this month.

The board also authorized Cessna to advertise its intent to adopt the preliminary budget at the February school board meeting.

The preliminary budget shows an opening fund balance of $2,054,677 and total estimated revenues of $14,895,697. Estimated expenditures of $15,166,179 exceed projected revenues and would force the district to dip into its fund balance to cover the disparity. The preliminary budget lists an ending fund balance of $1,784,195 projected for June 30, 2014. The district's deadline to ratify a final version of the budget is June 30 of this year.

Delinquent tax payments are also shortchanging the district of significant revenue, according to Cessna. As of Dec. 31, Homer-Center was still owed more than $300,000 in taxes from Homer City Borough and Center Township property owners.

Those uncollected taxes have been submitted to the Indiana County Tax Claim Bureau for collection, Cessna said.

Penalties bring the delinquent tax totals to $255,390.14 in Center Township and $86,372.72 in Homer City Borough. The amount of unpaid taxes increased from 2011 in both municipalities, but most markedly in Homer City, which saw a 12.26 percent increase in delinquent taxes.

Although it won't alleviate the district's budgetary concerns, a new program will provide both recognition and revenue for high achievers at Homer-Center High School.

Consol Energy has committed $3,000 in awards to Homer-Center students in grades 10-12 via the Challenge Program, a Johnstown-based initiative connecting schools and businesses to offer financial incentives for student performance.

The program awards $250 to each grade level's top performer in the areas of academic improvement, attendance, academic excellence and community service.

Students who improve their grade point average by five percentage points or more over the course of the school year are eligible for the academic improvement award, while students with a GPA of 98 percent or higher at the end of the third grading period qualify for Summa Scholar recognition and a chance at the academic excellence award.

The student in each grade level with the fewest absences can win the attendance award, and students who complete and document 20 hours of community service are eligible for the community service prize.

Ligonier Valley, United and Indiana high schools and the Indiana County Technology Center are also among the 90 schools in four states that participate in the program.

In other business, the board unanimously approved:

• Alex Gett, Jared Mitasky, Stephanie Mallis, Amanda Bee and Hannah Senft as substitutes teachers and Mary Beth Brown as a substitute school nurse.

• Kathy Walker as a substitute cafeteria worker and John Rising and Lorie Porter as spare bus drivers.

• Rebekah Barrett as assistant varsity volleyball coach and Rhonda Reinholt as a volunteer in the high school Life Skills room.

• Michael Stofa's attendance at the 2013 Improving School Performance Conference Jan. 27-30 in Pittsburgh at a cost of $846.62.

• A request for Teresa Koenigsberg and Sarah DeVivo to attend the ARIN Gifted Boot Camp in Indiana Jan. 28-29 at a cost of $240 and two substitutes for two days.

• Seven student field trips, including the sophomore class trip to Washington D.C., and a trip to London and Paris by the American Council for International Studies group.

• Adoption of new school board policies regardng finance – all of which were derived from state guidelines, according to Koren.

• Ted Pluchinsky to a two-year term and Randy Thomas to a three-year term as the school district's representatives on the Homer-Center Parks and Recreation Board. Kimberly Thomas abstained from voting for her husband's appointment to the board.

Greg Reinbold is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2913 or

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