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Debate continues over tax decrease in Baldwin-Whitehall

| Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Baldwin-Whitehall School Board members continue to clash over a board majority's decision in June to reduce the property-tax rate by 2 mills for the 2014-15 school year.

Final numbers from the state, which Baldwin-Whitehall received after board members approved the district's final $62.7 million spending plan for this school year, have reduced the projected deficit by $290,000, to $3.5 million, business manager Mark Cherpak told board members at their agenda meeting last week. Money to cover the projected deficit would be taken from the fund balance.

As district leaders received an update on the spending plan, some board members continued to question the board majority's decision to reduce property taxes from 19.61 to 17.61 mills.

“I think the public needs to know how much we're losing per year because of the 2-mill tax decrease,” board member Tracy Macek said.

“It depends what we do with the millage next year,” Cherpak said.

Others, during the sometimes heated discussion last week, stood by the reduction in property taxes and said the district's deficit is only on paper, and projections for the future cannot be made.

“Only in Baldwin-Whitehall could something so positive be turned into something negative,” board member Martin Michael Schmotzer said and asked if residents who didn't like the tax reduction had returned their “savings” to the district.

Baldwin-Whitehall's preliminary budget, which was approved by the board in an 8-0 vote in May and put on display for public review, included no tax increase and planned to use $500,000 from the fund balance to balance the budget.

Schmotzer, at the board's June voting meeting, made a motion from the floor to cut the tax rate by 2 mills. He said the district is “not a bank” and has too much in the fund balance. The district will have about $18.5 million in the fund balance this year, Schmotzer said.

Macek questioned why Schmotzer waited until that meeting to present his plan for a tax cut. Macek, along with board members Karen Brown, David Solenday and President Larry Pantuso, dissented on the final budget.

With that budget passage, Baldwin-Whitehall initially faced a $3.8 million deficit for 2014-15. Final numbers from the state reduced the projected deficit to $3.5 million.

“Although our actual budget numbers aren't changing, some of the state budget numbers will change the revenue that we're receiving from them,” Cherpak said.

That includes the district receiving about $6,500 more in basic education subsidies, which will total about $9.1 million for 2014-15, Cherpak said. The district also will receive about $32,000 more than expected in special-education funds, totaling about $2.5 million.

Brown, who participated in last week's meeting by phone, asked if the millage cut would trigger cuts to capital purchases in the future.

“If the revenues don't continue to fund the fund balance, then some of those things that we do with the fund balance have to change,” Cherpak said.

Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or shacke@tribweb.com.

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