Highlands budget proposal raises property tax to state limit | TribLIVE.com
Valley News Dispatch

Highlands budget proposal raises property tax to state limit

Brian C. Rittmeyer

A property tax increase up to the state limit is possible in Highlands School District for the upcoming school year.

But even with a 3.3% increase, the district would still need to spend about $1.7 million from its reserves to cover all of its spending, according to a presentation Monday by district Business Manager Lori Byron.

The school board is expected to vote on the $46.2 million proposed final budget on May 20. A final vote would come in June.

The figures could, and probably will, change in that time, which may taper back the tax increase, Byron said.

Outstanding and unknown factors she cited included an insurance renewal; contract negotiations with cafeteria and custodial/maintenance employees; the district’s new transportation contract with ABC Transit, which the board awarded Monday night; and repairs to the clock tower at Highlands Elementary School in Tarentum.

A 3.3% tax increase comes out to 0.81 mills, which would generate about $695,000 in additional revenue for the district at its estimated 88% collection rate, Byron said.

It would increase Highlands’ property tax rate from 24.63 mills to 25.44 mills. For a house assessed at $100,000, that would add $81 to the annual property tax bill.

Byron said the district used a zero-based budget process this year, in which budget requests were made starting from nothing instead of using this year’s budget as a starting point.

Base salaries and wages will increase by about 3.6% overall, Byron said. Health insurance is going up 1.9%. The district’s retirement contribution is increasing from 33.43% to 34.29%.

The budget includes $270,000 for a new science curriculum for kindergarten through eighth grade. Educators are recommending buying “Smithsonian Science for the Classroom” for elementary grades, K-4, and “Elevate” from Pearson for the middle school grades, 5-8.

Factored into the district’s income is increased collection of delinquent real estate taxes, now being collected by the law firm of Weiss Burkardt Kramer. Byron said the district’s 2018-19 collections through March have exceeded the budgeted amount by about $196,000. The 2019-20 budget anticipates that to continue.

The firm is paid 10% of the money it collects, Byron said.

The district also is collecting more in interest due to higher interest rates, Byron said. The earned interest income through March has exceeded the budgeted amount by almost $90,000, and the proposed budget anticipates additional interest earnings.

State funding for basic and special education is increasing “modestly,” while federal funding is flat, Byron said.

Brian C. Rittmeyer is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Brian at 724-226-4701, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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