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Taxes to rise for Hempfield homeowners

| Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013, 12:02 a.m.

Taxpayers in the Hempfield Area School District will pay 1.5 mills more in property taxes for the 2013-14 school year under a resolution adopted by the school board.

School directors unanimously agreed Monday to limit any tax increase to a state index of 2.1 percent that is calculated by the Department of Education. The increase will be sufficient to balance the budget, which must be adopted by June 30.

Every school district has a ceiling that determines how much it can increase taxes without seeking voter approval. Any figure over the ceiling requires voter approval through a referendum. The index is calculated by averaging the weekly wage rate and federal employment cost index for schools.

Business manager Jude Abraham has warned the school board it will have to raise taxes over the next three school years in order to balance the budget. The district has been using some of its $12 million in budget surplus to offset the deficit.

Abraham said the district will need to increase property taxes by a total of 3.7 mills through the 2015-16 school year.

Like school districts across the state, Hempfield faces continued cuts in state subsidies. Those subsidies typically help districts balance their budgets by returning tax revenue. Abraham said the district will need $3 million in additional revenue to balance the budget.

In February, school directors will begin in earnest formulating a budget for the next fiscal year, said Abraham. The district immediately faces a $5.3 million deficit that likely will be pared by the time the final spending plan is adopted.

“The process has started full force,” Abraham said.

“We have to decide what we're willing to look at,” said Sonya Brajdic, board president.

With the planned closing of the Bovard Elementary School later this year, the district will save approximately $1 million. Abraham said directors will have to find another $400,000 in additional savings.

The school board could close Crossroads, an alternative education site within the district, which would save $300,000, Abraham said.

Taxpayers will have to pay $1 million more in contributions toward teacher pensions.

Last year, school directors held a series of weekly budget meetings that continued almost to the deadline to pass a budget as they tried to avoid cutting educational programs.

Tim Kotch, assistant superintendent of secondary education, said the district will examine potential changes to programs such as combining certain classes or eliminating classes that have only a handful of students.

The district has reduced its expenditures over the past several years by eliminating services that are now managed by private companies.

The district sold its bus fleet and now contracts with a private carrier. A private firm manages the cafeteria system. Last year, directors hired another private company to manage its information technology department.

Richard Gazarik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6292 or at rgazarik@tribweb.com.

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