North Allegheny considering 2nd consecutive tax hike
The North Allegheny school board has unanimously approved a proposed budget that will increases taxes for the second consecutive year after the rate held steady during the three previous years.
The May 22 vote was only to approve the proposed final version of the budget. A final vote on the $175.8 million spending plan is scheduled for the board’s June 26 business meeting.
The 2019-20 budget calls for increasing the property tax rate from its current level of 18.4557 mills up to 19.1408, or 3.7 percent. The hike is expected to generate an additional $4.1 million in revenue for the district.
If approved, the change in the rate will cost taxpayers an additional $68.50 a year for each $100,000 of their property’s assessed value, according to district officials.
The owner of a property at the district’s $238,500 median assessed value would pay an additional $163 a year in real estate taxes to the district.
About 65 percent of the district’s funding comes from the property taxes it collects. State funding accounts for another 21 percent of revenue with the remainder coming from federal and other local taxes.
Board members said they will continue to review the budget in the hopes of identifying areas for savings that could be used to reduce the proposed tax increase.
But several noted that there are minimal areas where cuts can be made without sacrificing educational programs or foregoing necessary improvements to district buildings.
“It’s never easy to do something like this that includes a tax increase,” said school Director Andy Chomos.
“The challenge is that the district is at a critical point in its age and infrastructure,” he said, adding that it is important for the district to maintain an adequate fund balance to cover the long-term cost of financing infrastructure improvements.
At a May 15 budget presentation, district finance officials noted that more than $66 million in bond issues are needed for the work to expand and renovate Franklin and McKnight elementary schools as well as projects to improve district sports fields and other aging infrastructure.
Board member Kevin Mahler said much of the budget is earmarked for salaries and benefits and that trying to make “substantial cuts” from the spending plan would have to come from reducing the number of district employees.
“The real way to make a big difference (in the budget) is in programming changes that affect staffing, ” Mahler said, though he did not suggest the board look at making such changes.
He noted that the district policy of limiting the number of students in a class “comes at a cost.”
Currently the district caps the size of classes for kindergarten through second grade at 24 children, Mahler said. It increases to 27 pupils for third grade and 29 for fourth and fifth grades.
He noted that board’s decision to develop a policy to keep class size low was largely driven by input from parents who believe having fewer students in a classroom is part of the district’s recipe for success.
Prior to increasing taxes to 18.4557 for the 2018-19 school year, the rate held at 18.0011 mills for the three previous years, according to Allegheny County tax records. The rate for the 2014-15 school year was 17.4039 mills.
District officials said the additional revenue is needed to help pay for, among other things, several major construction projects underway in the district, additional staff for the district’s growing enrollment and increases in the district’s required contribution to the state retirement fund for school employees.
The district’s payment to the Pennsylvania Public School Employees’ Retirement System, or PSERS fund, has jumped dramatically over the past several years with estimates that it will continue
For the 2015-16 school year, the district paid more than $17.16 million into the retirement fund. The following year the payment increased by 20 percent, followed by a 13-percent jump in 2017-18.
This year, NA’s contribution to the retirement system will be climb to more than $25.32 million, with projections that it will hit nearly $32.49 million within five years.
With more than 8,350 students, North Allegheny is the larges school district in Allegheny County after Pittsburgh Public Schools system.
Tony LaRussa is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tony at 724-772-6368, [email protected] or via Twitter .