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Penn Hills

Preliminary budget $5 million short in Penn Hills School District

Michael DiVittorio
| Thursday, Jan. 25, 2018, 1:12 p.m.

Even with a property tax hike, the proposed 2018-19 budget that is being advertised will leave the Penn Hills School District about $5 million short.

The preliminary budget includes a 1.9093-mill property tax increase to 29.4663 mills. The hike means the owner of a $75,000 home would pay an additional $113 in taxes annually.

While a final budget does not have to be adopted until June 30, the district must approve a preliminary spending plan in February for the ability to increase taxes beyond the state's Act 1 index limits if it chooses.

The proposed budget lists revenues at roughly $88.2 million and expenditures at $93.3 million. Its tax hike follows the same method as last year's budgeting.

Penn Hills raised taxes by 1.5 mills in 2016-17 after receiving approval from the state Department of Education to raise the millage above the Act 1 index, citing additional expenses for special education and retirement costs. The index is a formula that limits tax increases.

“This is going to involve a lot of discipline and a lot of tough decisions,” Superintendent Nancy Hines said. “The preliminary budget is only a starting point, and there is a shared commitment at this table. ... We want to impact students as little as possible. We want to remain mindful of the taxpayer burden.”

The district is about $172 million in debt — most coming from the construction of the elementary and high school. The district also spent nearly $6 million over budget last year and approximately $500,000 over budget in 2015-16. Accountant Michael Lamb, who was appointed by the state to work with the district on its financial problems, said it will take time for the district to get out of the hole it is in.

“There have been decisions in the past that are still facing the district today,” Lamb said during a recent meeting. “All your problems aren't going to be solved in one budget cycle.”

Board President Erin Vecchio said the board does not plan to eliminate any programs and will look for staff reductions through retirements.

Hines delivered the budget presentation with technology director Roger Myers, human resources director Eileen Navish and Lamb. Business manager David Roussos has not attended meetings or been available in the district for at least two weeks. School officials have not commented about his absence beyond saying he is still employed by the district.

Michael DiVittorio is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-871-2367, or via Twitter @MikeJdiVittorio.

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