Norwin proposes 5.25-mill tax hike
By Rossilynne Skena Culgan
Published: Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Norwin school directors on Monday adopted a preliminary 2013-14 budget of $62 million, which includes a 5.25-mill property tax increase.
The budget reflects a $2 million shortfall. A 5.25-mill tax increase would net about $1.9 million, as each mill in the district brings in about $370,000.
Under Pennsylvania's Act 1 of 2006, the state sets a limit on how much school districts can raise taxes. Districts, however, can approve a preliminary budget, asking for the state's OK to raise taxes more than the limit.
The state-set limit for a tax increase for next school year is 1.5 mills, which would generate about $550,000 in Norwin. The district will request its exception from the index, citing retirement and special-education costs, district business manager John Wilson said.
The budget will be available for public inspection and will be approved by the school board at the Feb. 18 meeting.
District Superintendent William Kerr emphasized that the budget with a tax increase is a “worst-case scenario.”
“The board and the administration will make every concerted effort to build a budget that's not only balanced but (will) make the necessary adjustments to limit any potential tax increase,” Kerr said.
The district will not receive “any concrete information” from Gov. Tom Corbett's state budget until Feb. 5, he said.
“We anxiously await what the proposal might be for public education from the governor's office,” Kerr said.
The 5.25-mill increase would cost the average residential taxpayer about $130 more, Wilson said.
The state is expected to notify the district in March if it has been authorized to hike taxes more than the index.
The school board must approve a final budget in June. The preliminary budget approved Monday night could change before then, the district said in a news release.
“Passing a preliminary budget this month does not require the district to increase millage or exceed the index,” Wilson said in a news release. “It gives the board of education the flexibility to exceed the Act 1 index ,if necessary.”
The preliminary budget includes a 5.4 percent, or $3.2 million, increase in expenses over the current spending plan.
That's attributed to increases in costs of retirement, debt service, health insurance and cost-of-living.
The district administration is reviewing every area of the budget to cut costs while monitoring revenue, the news release stated.
Over the past two budgets, officials axed a combined $5 million funding gap by cutting expenses and maximizing revenues, according to the news release.
About $4 million sits in the district's fund balance.
In the fall, school directors appointed 13 people to an “efficient and effective district task force,” the news release stated. The group is tasked with studying how to best use resources and looking for ways to improve efficiency, productivity and cost-effectiveness for the 2013-14 budget.
The group includes representatives from the administration, school board, and unions representing teachers, support professional, custodial and maintenance staff, food service staff, and the public.
Three task force meetings have been held, Wilson said, and two more are scheduled.
The group likely will make its recommendations to the school board by mid-May.
The district this school year is operating on a $58.9 million budget. The school board voted in June to raise taxes 1.45 mills, helping to plug a budget gap. Despite the increase, the district's tax rate is the lowest in Westmoreland County.
Rossilynne Skena is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6646 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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