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South Hills

Brentwood, Baldwin-Whitehall districts set to begin '18-19 budget talks

| Friday, Jan. 12, 2018, 11:00 p.m.

Will property owners living within the West Jefferson, Baldwin-Whitehall and Brentwood Borough school districts see their taxes go up for the 2018-19 school year?

That is a question that may become more clear in the coming months as the three school districts are beginning to look ahead to next year and their financial needs.

“It is very preliminary at this point so it would be nearly impossible to predict the final budget, etc.,” Baldwin-Whitehall Superintendent Randal Lutz said. “Until we receive feedback from the board as to where they are even comfortable with the conversations going, I cannot really answer the other questions. Ultimately, they will direct us to keep any millage rate within the index or not.”

Baldwin-Whitehall has a $66.1 million budget for the current school year, which included a tax increase of 1.12 mills. The increase brings the rate to 20.37 mills. Residents who own property assessed at $100,000 will be paying $112 more annually in property taxes.

The district could potentially raise taxes to fund next year's budget because it needs to make repairs and upgrades at its five buildings, a project with an overall estimated cost of $40 million. A preliminary budget will be discussed Feb. 7 and acted on Feb. 14, Lutz said.

But the clock is ticking.

By law, most Pennsylvania school districts have a Jan. 25 deadline to make a proposed 2018-19 version of a preliminary budget available for public inspection. Or, the school board must adopt a resolution indicating it will not raise the rate of any tax by more than its index, according to state Act. 1.

The adjusted 2018-19 index for Baldwin-Whitehall is 3.1 percent; Brentwood is 3.4 percent; and West Jefferson is 3 percent.

In West Jefferson, which is in the midst of building a new $95 million high school, taxes will go up.

But, it won't be above the state index, a district spokeswoman said. The district, which has a current budget of $50 million, is in year five or a seven-year increase. The West Jefferson board last year bumped its millage of 0.608 mills to 20.236 mills.

Budget discussions won't take place until April in West Jefferson and a preliminary budget will be presented in May. The final budget will be acted on before the end of June, when the state's fiscal year ends, the spokeswoman said.

Property owners living in the Brentwood Borough School District should expect property taxes to go up for the 2018-19 school year because of increases in salaries, pensions, health insurance and general supplies, Superintendent Amy Burch said.

“The district continues to explore avenues to cut costs such as combining service contracts when possible and by seeking out grants,” she said.

“All options are on the table at this point in time, which includes applying for exceptions.”

Brentwood's budget for the current school year is $23.1 million and the millage rate is 29.5332. Burch said it will vote Jan. 23 to place a preliminary budget on display for the public to review.

Suzanne Elliott is a Tribune-Review staff writer.

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