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Franklin Regional preliminary budget includes tax hike

| Tuesday, May 6, 2014, 12:03 a.m.

Franklin Regional School Board on Monday adopted a preliminary 2014-15 budget that includes a 0.83-mill tax hike.

With expenditures of $50,250,828 and revenues of $49,977,050, the budget includes $285,000 of additional funding from the Public School Employees Retirement System fund.

Coupled with the proposed tax hike, the budget would hold an $11,000 surplus.

The tentative proposal passed 8-1, with directors Larry Borland, Dennis Pavlik, Susan Ilgenfritz, Gregg Neavin, Jeremy Samek, Roberta Cook, Jane Tower and Herb Yingling voting in favor.

Board member George Harding was absent from the special meeting.

The preliminary budget will be available for public review prior to final adoption, scheduled for the June 16 voting board meeting, finance director Jon Perry said.

Prior to voting, Cook discussed the “gap,” a difference between cost increases and revenue increases.

She said under Act 1 — the state legislation that distributes gambling revenue to districts — the state limits how much school boards can raise the tax rate each year.

Franklin Regional's Act 1 index for the upcoming school year was capped at 2.1 mills.

Cutting programming is no better an option for budget balancing, Cook said.

The amount of the district's budget that is considered discretionary is about 8 percent, she said, or $4 million.

And tapping budgetary reserves would quickly exhaust that fund, Cook said.

She said she has heard that some Westmoreland County districts are unable or unwilling to raise taxes to meet their own “gap,” have already cut programming and eaten up budgetary reserve funds.

In order to maintain line items including technology and capital projects, discussed in an earlier committee-of-the-whole meeting, Cook said the board should follow its “fiduciary responsibilities” and pass the 0.83-mill tax hike.

Perry said prior to Monday's meeting that a commitment to maintaining current programs would sometimes require “modest increases —year over year.”

Along with Act 1 restrictions, the district is grappling with mandatory increases to its payment to the under-funded PSERS.

The district raised taxes for 10 consecutive years until last May. During the last five years, the average tax increase was below 2 mills per year, a budget history showed.

The district's current millage rate is 87.68 mills, with the value of a mill estimated at $339,000 for the 2014-15 school year.

Mary Pickels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-5401 or mpickels@tribweb.com.

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