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Leechburg Area raises taxes more than expected

Brian C. Rittmeyer
| Thursday, June 25, 2009

By Brian C. Rittmeyer

Valley News Dispatch

Property taxes will increase by nearly 4 percent in Leechburg and Gilpin and by just over 1 percent in West Leechburg next school year.

The school board yesterday adopted a $12.3 million budget for 2009-10.

The tax rates are higher than those included with the preliminary budget approved in May. Under that spending plan, tax rates were to increase 2.5 percent in Leechburg and Gilpin and by less than 1 percent in West Leechburg.

Business Manager Mark Lukacs said the tax increase grew because of a decline in assessed property value in the Armstrong County communities — Leechburg and Gilpin.

Another reason is the additional cost to send students to the Northern Westmoreland Career and Technology Center in New Kensington for its half-day program, Lukacs said.

The cost of sending students to Northern Westmoreland accounts for a half-mill of the property tax increase, Lukacs said.

Four sophomores are expected to attend Northern Westmoreland, and that is provided for in the budget. The district now sends juniors and seniors to a full-day vocational-technical program at Lenape Tech.

If more students than budgeted for elect to attend Northern Westmoreland, the money will have to come from the district's fund balance or other budgetary transfers, Lukacs said.

Tuition for Northern Westmoreland is $5,300 per student. The district also has to pay $75 per day for transportation, or about $15,000 a year, Lukacs said.

The budget passed 6-2, with board members Terri Smith and Kathy Vargo voting against the budget and tax rates. Member Brian Ravotti was absent.

Smith said she voted against the budget because of the added cost of sending students to Northern Westmoreland and the possibility that there may not be enough money allocated in the budget to pay for all the students who choose to attend.

"I don't feel we should be raising taxes for something that's already offered to us at Lenape," she said.

According to officials, if more money is needed for Northern Westmoreland tuition, it could come from the kindergarten program. A fourth class has been added in the budget but may not be needed because enrollment currently is below that of the previous school year.

Board member Terry Knepshield attempted to amend the budget to take out the additional kindergarten class and use the money, about $25,000, to lower the tax increase.

His motion failed, with only himself and board member Neill Brady voting in favor.

Additional Information:

Millage breakdown

The average assessed value on a house in the Armstrong County portion of 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: 60.61 mills

New tax rate: 62.86 mills

Old tax bill: $1,418

New tax bill: $1,471

Tax increase: $53

The average assessed value on a house in the Westmoreland County portion 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: 98.91 mills

Old tax bill: $1,443

New tax bill: $1,461

Tax increase: $18

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