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Southmoreland School District approves 2014-15 budget

| Saturday, July 12, 2014, 5:27 p.m.

It might have come a bit later than planned, but the Southmoreland School District has a budget for the 2014-15 school year that includes a tax increase.

During a special meeting on Saturday morning, the board voted, 6-3, to approve a spending plan that lists expenditures of $27,240,475, revenue of $26,239,217 and a fund balance of $1,001,258.

Voting in favor of the motion were directors Levi Miller, Gail Rhodes, Jason Pawlikowsky, Aimee Love, James Beistel and Cheryl Byers-Shipley. Voting against it were Ken Alt, Robert Callaro and board President Michael Bentz.

Millage for Westmoreland County property owners will increase 1.9 percent, from 71.0597 mills to 72.4094 mills. That will result in an annual increase of $18.91 for those whose property is assessed at the median property value.

In Fayette County, the millage rate will rise about 2.8 percent, from 14 mills to 14.3876 mills. The annual increase for properties assessed at the median value will be $18.85.

One mill generates about $115,026 in Westmoreland County and $86,294 in Fayette County.

Business Manager James Marnell has said a tax increase was necessary because of wage and health insurance increases, as well as benefits adjusted for the Public School Employees Retirement System.

A vote on the budget could not be taken during the board's meeting on Thursday night because the district had to fulfill its legal advertising obligations.

The budget was not approved during a meeting on June 30 because a majority vote was required. Four of the six board members in attendance that night voted in favor of the spending plan that ultimately was approved, but five yes votes were needed.

Not having a budget by June 30 affected district business. Certain bills and many district employees could not be paid until a budget was approved.

There was a second budget options on Saturday's agenda.

That option, which was proposed by Callaro, did not have a provision to add a language arts teacher at the high school and would have cut the proposed tax increase to 1.5 percent.

“We were in a win-lose situation when we voted for the budget to be approved from the administration,” Callaro said after the meeting. “Those that said they didn't mind the tax increase because it would improve the quality of education, they were going to have that whether we approved a 1.5 (percent tax increase) or a 2.9 (percent increase),” which is the maximum allowed without a vote by residents.

“The taxpayers are the ones that lost. They got nothing out of it,” he said.

Superintendent John Molnar said he is glad to have a budget and reiterated statements made during Thursday's meeting that the budget will allow the district to continue a program that “adequately meets the needs of our students for the coming year.”

“I'm glad we can now move on and go about the business of preparing to educate kids,” he said.

The school district's tax increase is only the second in the past 10 years. The other was in the 2012-13 budget, which included a 1.66-mill tax increase for Westmoreland County property owners and a 0.0821-mill increase for Fayette County.

The board unanimously approved a motion authorizing homestead and farmstead exclusion real estate tax assessment reductions.

Marnell has said that property owners approved for such exemptions would receive a maximum real estate tax reduction of $209.12, which is up slightly from last year's $205.96.

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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