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Westmoreland

Hempfield Area considers 3 percent property tax increase

| Monday, May 15, 2017, 11:00 p.m.

Hempfield Area property owners are facing a nearly 3 percent hike in taxes after school directors approved a tentative budget for the 2017-18 calendar year, though officials say they're putting the district on more solid fiscal footing.

The school board on Monday unanimously approved a $95.75 million budget proposal that the public can review before the board's final vote to adopt it June 19. As proposed, the budget would raise property taxes by 2.47 mills to 82.21, or $82.21 for every $1,000 of a property's assessed value.

“In terms of stress on the taxpayer base, we are in the lower to middle half of Westmoreland County,” said Finance Director Wayne Wismar. “(The increase) still would only put us in the middle, if no one else increased at all.”

Wismar said the district's expenses were driven by a $1.59 million increase in what the district must pay into the state's teacher pension fund and an additional $1.13 million in contractually obligated salary increases.

Wismar said, “63.4 percent of our budget is direct instruction. ... Those are the regular costs of instructing children. The budget is being directed toward the students.”

Costs still outstripped revenues by about $574,000 — which would be slightly more than $2 million without a tax increase, or $2.8 million if the district hadn't raised taxes in the 2016-17 year.

Unless the board amends the budget to make any cuts or increase revenues, the remaining deficit can be covered by the district's fund balance, which would remain at about $6.58 million. That was better than Wismar's projection three years ago that the district's balance could have gone into the red by the 2016-17 school year if directors hadn't made changes and raised taxes.

“The work that's being done has been accomplished without impacting programs, without impacting class sizes and really protecting the instruction of students,” he said.

If passed, the budget would represent the ninth tax increase in 12 years.

Matthew Santoni is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724 836 6660, msantoni@tribweb.com or via Twitter @msantoni.

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