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Freeport board plans for 'worst case'

| Thursday, Jan. 26, 2012

Freeport Area School Board on Wednesday passed a preliminary 2012-13 budget that includes an approximately 5.5 percent tax increase but said it won't decide until summer whether to commit to a building project.

The $25.5 million spending plan includes the district's maximum anticipated cost increase estimates.

"This is a worst-case scenario budget," board First Vice President Barbara Toy-Gaydos said. "Now we need to sharpen our pencils and figure out what we can cut out."

Board member Frank C. Prazenica Jr. voted against the preliminary budget. Board President Mark Shoaf was absent.

Based on a state formula used to determine the maximum tax increases for each school district, Freeport cannot raise taxes more than 2.3 percent unless it seeks state approval. The state requires districts that want to raise taxes beyond the limit to apply for exceptions. Freeport qualifies for two: increasing costs for pension payments and special education.

Business Manager William Reilly told the board that retirement costs could go up by $458,000 and health care costs could increase by $186,000. He said the budget also factored in possible state education funding reductions.

The tax increase would mean a $131 increase for Buffalo Township residents and a $92 increase for Freeport and South Buffalo residents.

The board also decided to delay committing to a building project until after Gov. Tom Corbett's budget address.

Board members seemed to agree that the best option would be to build a new senior high and renovate the current high school to use as the junior high. The project would cost about $37 million.

"I think that we all pretty much agreed that we need to do something in the near future," Toy-Gaydos said. "We decided what we'd love to do, but we just need to decide when we can do it. And that's all going to come with what we hear from the governor and the state and where we stand in our budget."

Prazenica proposed forming a board committee to keep the discussion going until members are ready to make a decision.

"We should always continue to plan," he said. "I think we should always have ideas of what we can do and of course the critical thing is to associate that with a cost."

Freeport resident Steve Bono agreed with the board's decision.

"I commend the board for not acting in haste on something that is going to cause such profound hardship for people," he said of a possible tax increase to pay for the project.

Additional Information:

About the tax increase

For Armstrong County residents:

A typical assessed value on a house in Freeport or South Buffalo is $30,500, according to district officials. Here's what the 2012-13 tax bill would look like for such a property:

Old tax rate: 52.3 mills

New tax rate: 55.3 mills

Old tax bill: $1,595

New tax bill: $1,687

Tax increase: $93

For Butler County residents:

A typical assessed value on a house in Buffalo Township is $19,855, according to district officials. Here's what the 2012-13 tax bill would look like for such a property:

Old tax rate: 121.6 mills

New tax rate: 128.2 mills

Old tax bill: $2,414

New tax bill: $2,545

Tax increase: $131

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