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Burrell school board raises property taxes nearly 3 percent

| Tuesday, June 21, 2016, 11:00 p.m.

Home and property owners in the Burrell School District will be paying nearly 3 percent more in real estate taxes next school year.

The school board on Tuesday night unanimously approved a $29.5 million budget for 2016-17 that is about $300,000 less than was originally proposed in April.

Business Manager Jennifer Callahan has listed several factors for the decrease including: the teachers union approving a contract that has employees contributing more toward health insurance; a decrease in health insurance costs due to changes in employee enrollment; an additional teacher retirement that is expected to be filled at a lower salary; and elimination of a proposed teaching position.

The district will dip into reserve funds to balance the budget, using about $750,000.

The 2.5-mill property tax increase is expected to generate about $380,000 in additional revenue.

The board did not increase taxes during the past two school years.

Spending is expected to increase by just more than 1 percent from the current school year's budget. That's due largely to a state-mandated hike in the district's contribution rate to employee pensions plus some technology upgrades and more Burrell students attending the Northern Westmoreland Career & Technology Center in New Kensington.

No new teacher, but resource officer may stay

The board also has budgeted additional money to continue the school resource officer program, though Superintendent Shannon Wagner said the district remains in discussions with Lower Burrell and Upper Burrell to reduce the district's share of the estimated $150,000 total cost.

State grants partially funded the first two years of the program, which places Lower Burrell police Detective John Marhefka in Burrell buildings throughout the school year. The city picks up 30 percent of his salary, benefits, equipment, insurance and other expenses, a cost structure that reflects the three months school is not in session and he works for the city.

It won't be known until fall whether the program will receive additional grant money, meaning the district had to budget its full $100,000 share.

The board has asked Lower Burrell Council to consider paying a larger percentage or find other ways to reduce the cost. The district also approached Upper Burrell Supervisors to consider chipping in.

Neither municipality has approved any changes to the program's cost structure.

Wagner said the current school resource officer agreement with Lower Burrell expires in July.

Liz Hayes is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at or 724-226-4680.

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