Pa. Rep. Tony DeLuca asks state to deny Penn Hills School District its tax increase request
State Rep. Tony DeLuca, D-Penn Hills, has asked the state Department of Education to deny a request by Penn Hills School District officials to raise real estate taxes beyond state restrictions.
“I am asking you to deny this request and require the school district to reduce the tax-rate increase to no more than the index, or require it to submit a referendum question for voter approval in the next election,” DeLuca said via press release. “The Act 1 index was deliberately put in statute to limit excessive tax increases, and it should be allowed to serve its purpose as designed.”
State Department of Education placed the district in financial recovery status in January and will appoint a recovery officer to take over district finances sometime this month.
The index is a state formula that limits tax hikes without first seeking permission from voters to do so. The district plans to seek exceptions that the state allows in order to exceed that cap without a voter referendum. In Penn Hills’ case, it’s for pension and special education costs.
School board members approved advertising its 2019-20 preliminary budget with the tax plan Jan. 28. It is posted online at phsd.k12.pa.us. The board will consider passing it Feb. 19.
The state’s tax cap for Penn Hills, which is tied to an inflation formula, would restrict Penn Hills’ millage increase to 0.9172-mill. That would be an increase of almost 3.2 percent.
The millage rate, should the exceptions be granted, would spike from 28.6646 mills to 30.5818 mills. That’s an increase of 1.9172-mills, or 6.7 percent.
The proposed new rate would amount to the owner of a home assessed at $100,000 paying about $192 more in taxes next school year.
Even with the proposed tax hike, the district still needs to close an estimated $8 million deficit.
DeLuca said Friday the district should put the proposed tax hike on the ballot as a referendum and let the residents vote on it.
“They can make their case to the voters,” he said. “I’m sure everybody knows how important education is, but you can’t continue to tax the residents of this community. Before you know it, no one’s going to be moving in to this community.”
He said he plans to introduce legislation that would have any school district that seeks Act 1 exceptions for a third straight year, which Penn Hills plans to do, put the issue up for a public vote.
“I’m not trying to hurt the school district,” DeLuca said. “They know they’re on shaky grounds with their budget process. Everybody’s got to live within their means.”
School Board President Erin Vecchio, who lost to DeLuca in last year’s Democratic Party primary for the senator’s seat, encouraged the long-time legislator to seek state grants and not denials.
“I think this letter is a joke,” Vecchio said Friday evening. “He does this every year when the school district asks for a tax increase.
”Nobody on the board wants this tax increase. We need it to fix the problems so we can educate the kids the way they need to be educated and not put people out of their houses. Get us the money that we need to get out of the hole that we are put in.”
The district received a $2 million state grant in 2017 and again last year to help with its financial struggles.
It is more than $172 million in debt, largely due to the construction of a new high school and elementary school.
Michael DiVittorio is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Michael at 412-871-2367, email@example.com or via Twitter @MikeJdiVittorio.
Michael DiVittorio is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Michael at 412-871-2367, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .