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Leechburg school officials scale back property tax increase

Brian C. Rittmeyer
| Monday, May 18, 2009

District residents will still see their property taxes increase in the new school year, but it will be by substantially less than originally projected.

After administrators and board members reviewed spending and income, the district has backed away from increasing property taxes by the maximum allowed by the state without exceptions or a voter referendum.

The tax increase for Leechburg and Gilpin in Armstrong County was reduced from 6 percent to 2.5 percent, while the increase for West Leechburg in Westmoreland County was slashed from 4 percent to less than 1 percent -- to about .7 percent.

"Nobody likes a tax increase," Superintendent James Budzilek said. "We're hopeful this is a more acceptable budget for the school board to vote on."

The board will take a preliminary vote on the final budget on Wednesday. A final vote will be taken in June. After Wednesday, the budget will be available for review at school offices.

Spending is up by 2.7 percent in the $12.7 million spending plan, Budzilek said.

In addition to the tax increase, the district is budgeting to use $317,000 from its fund balance.

Board member Terry Knepshield was critical of any tax increase and proposed additional cuts at a recent board work session. The cuts were accepted by the full board and are reflected in the budget.

As the budget stands now, Knepshield said, "I think it's a lot better than where we stood three weeks ago."

The budget should have no negative effect on students, he said, adding that no essential programs were cut.

The district noted it was able to streamline the budget without cutting any educational programs. Increases in contracted services, salaries and insurance premiums were the major reasons for the tax increase.

Spending cuts were made in technology and at the elementary and secondary levels, Budzilek said. One vacant cafeteria position will not be filled.

In revenue, the district increased the amount it expects to collect in delinquent tax revenue, Budzilek said.

Budzilek said the district did not rely on federal stimulus money to balance the budget, because it will not be known how much the district will receive until a state budget is passed. That money could be used to restore some of the cuts that were made, such as for interactive white boards in the technology spending.

"We understand today's economy. We understand our taxpayers. We were very cautious and looked at everything, while at the same time maintaining a quality education for our students. That's one thing we always kept in mind," Budzilek said. "We don't want to cut programs. We did not cut any programs with this budget. We're very happy about that."

Additional Information:

Coming up

Who: Leechburg Area School Board.

What: Vote to adopt preliminary final budget.

When: 7 p.m. Wednesday.

Where: Administrative building board meeting room, 210 Penn Ave.

Additional Information:

About the proposed tax hike

The average assessed value on a house in the Armstrong County portion of the Leechburg Area School District is $23,402, according to district officials. Here's what the 2009-10 tax bill would look like for such a property:

Old tax rate: 60.61mills.

New tax rate: 62.17 mills.

Old tax bill: $1,418.

New tax bill: $1,455.

Tax increase: $37.

The average assessed value on a house in the Westmoreland County area of the district is $14,776. Here's what the 2009-10 tax bill would look like for such a property:

Old tax rate: 97.67 mills.

New tax rate: 98.32 mills.

Old tax bill: $1,443.

New tax bill: $1,453.

Tax increase: $10.

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