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Belle Vernon OKs tentative budget

| Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Belle Vernon Area School Board early Tuesday approved a preliminary budget forecasting a roughly $3 million shortfall as the district prepared to ask for a judge's permission to raise taxes higher than what Fayette County law allows.

"I'm not sure the judge will even listen to anything without a preliminary budget," said district Solicitor Mary Friedline. "Our time and effort would be virtually wasted."

The district recently filed a petition in Fayette County Court seeking permission to raise taxes, if needed, higher than the 10 percent cap placed on taxing bodies this year because of last year's reassessment.

The district serves three municipalities in Fayette County -- Washington Township, Fayette City and Belle Vernon -- as well as Rostraver Township and North Belle Vernon in Westmoreland County.

The board, at the end of a Monday evening meeting that stretched until 1 a.m. Tuesday, approved by a 4-3 vote the preliminary spending plan, which reflected a roughly $3 million deficit requiring an additional 19.96 mills to balance.

By law, a school district has to pass a preliminary spending plan at least 30 days before making the numbers official.

If Belle Vernon Area's preliminary numbers are adopted as the official 2003-04 spending plan, the district's tax base would fatten by roughly 31 percent.

"All this does is set a limit, right?" asked Director Edward Naylor. "It can't go higher?"

Naylor, after having his question answered, made the motion to approve the preliminary spending plan.

The dissenting votes came from directors Harve Anderson, Dr. L. Douglas Pepper and Joseph Stringhill. Directors Frank Muccino and Ralph Iacoboni were absent.

"This is not a final number," Director Deborah Puglia said. "It should be considerably lower than that."

A tax increase this year would follow the average 9.41-mill hike needed to balance the 2002-03 budget. That translated into a roughly 17 percent increase.

The increase was finalized after the board made cuts in a preliminary budget projecting a 13.25-mill hike would be needed to cover a deficit of almost $2 million.

Puglia said there are more cuts to be made in the 2003-04 preliminary spending plan.

"There are a lot of things we're working on that are going to bring this down," she said.

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