Southmoreland board resolves not to raise taxes above 2.4 percent state cap
In accordance with the Act 1 state legislation, the majority of Southmoreland School Board members agreed to pass a resolution stating they will not raise taxes in the 2012-13 budget above the index of 2.4 percent, which was set by the Pennsylvania Department of Education.
During a special meeting on Thursday, Ken Alt and Catherine Fike voted against the motion; the other board members voted in favor. Director Levi Miller was absent.
Business manager Bill Salem recommended that the board pass the resolution, adding that the 2012-13 budget could be balanced with a drawdown from the fund balance, budget cuts or a tax increase that did not need to exceed 2.4 percent.
"We do not need to apply for any special exceptions or to put a referendum on the ballot to increase taxes above that 2.4 percent," Salem said. "This budget is a starting point -- a work in progress -- and we have six months to add or take away from it."
Southmoreland, like every district across the state, must pass the resolution unless they plan to raise taxes above the index.
Fike and Alt had a problem with voting for the resolution. They said the very preliminary budget had a tax increase built into it, and they believed the district should not be given the option to raise taxes at all.
Fike said she just got her budget three days ago and did not have enough time to go over it. Alt agreed.
"Why is it every year we go through this?" he asked. "This should have been given to us six to eight weeks before now, when we have to start voting on things."
Alt also questioned why Salem presented this very preliminary budget with a tax increase, when it was suggested he offer a budget with a tax decrease.
Salem said he wanted to make sure the district could make ends meet within the perimeters the state had set and without knowing what kind of funding they would get from the state. Gov. Tom Corbett will give his budget address in February.
Superintendent John Molnar said the budget before them last night was not the budget they would be passing in June. He added that even though they agreed they would not raise taxes above the index, they still have the option not to raise taxes at all.
Fike and Alt said that if the board passed the resolution required by the Department of Education, they would also like the board to pass a resolution at the same time saying it would not raise taxes at all.
Director James Beistel said there was no way the board or administration could guarantee at this point that there would not be a tax increase.
"We have money to give these taxpayers a break," Alt said. "There should be a decrease."
Molnar said last night was not about passing a budget, but instead was about satisfying the mandate from the Department of Education. Passing the resolution ensures the district will move forward with a normal budget preparation timeline, with a final budget not needing approval until June.