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Southmoreland property owners tell board don't raise taxes

| Friday, June 20, 2014, 11:24 a.m.

A handful of citizens addressed the Southmoreland School Board at its meeting Thursday and had one simple message — do not increase taxes.

School directors voted 7-1 May 29 to approve a budget for the 2014-2015 school year that included a slight tax increase.

Board President Michael Bentz cast the lone negative vote and Director Ken Alt was not in attendance at that meeting.

The preliminary spending plan listed expenditures at $27,255,737, revenues at $26,427,718 and includes a fund balance of $423,519.

That spending plan called for the millage for Westmoreland County residents of the district to increase from 71.0597 mills to 72.494. That would result in an annual increase of $18.91 for those whose property is assessed at the median property value.

The rate in Fayette County would increase from 14 to 14.3876 mills. The annual increase for the properties assessed at the median property value would be $18.85.

At the time, Business Manager Jim Marnell said each of those increases was equivalent to about a nickel a day.

However, those who spoke last night to not want to see taxes raised one penny.

“No one can afford it,” said resident and former Scottdale Councilwoman Alesia Chiaramonte. “Everyone is tightening their belts and the school should also have to tighten its belt. If you have to get rid of some things, that's what you're going to have to do. No (residents) in the community or in the school district wants a tax hike.”

Resident Fred Collins wanted to remind the board of its role as the “boss” of the school district

“You were elected to do a job,” Collins said. “About these taxes, you heard nobody can afford them. If you can't do the job you were elected for, step down, let's get somebody in here who can help. (Administrators) have to answer to you.”

Marnell said May 29 that the main features leading to the increase are contracted wage increases and benefits adjusted for Public School Employees Retirement System and health insurance increases. He said salaries and benefits make up about 65 percent of the budget.

Superintendent John Molnar said the picture of the budget “has not changed” since May 29.

Marnell did say property owners approved for homestead and farmstead exemptions will receive a maximum real estate tax reduction of $209.12, which is up slightly from last year's $205.96.

School directors are scheduled to vote on a final budget June 30.

Paul Paterra is a staff editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-887-6101 or ppaterra@tribweb.com.

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