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School taxes jump in 9 Alle-Kiski districts

| Monday, July 1, 2002

It's ouch time - for Allegheny County residents, in particular.

Nine school districts in the Valley have raised taxes in school budgets that were recently approved.

Four of those districts are in Allegheny County, where new county property assessments work with new school tax hikes to make for a double whammy on some taxpayers.

Plum School District had the highest tax hike at 23 percent. Deer Lakes was second with a 21 percent jump.

Prior to this year, Plum School District dodged tax raises for 10 years. But school directors there blamed higher costs for insurance and debt service, as well as a lower-than-expected school subsidy increase from the state.

In order to cover the $38.2 million budget, the school board voted to raise taxes 3.5 mills, from 14.9 to 18.4 mills.

But Plum's tax collector said the tax hike will hit much harder.

When the county's new assessment values are considered, the average Plum homeowner could see a 35 percent jump on their school tax bills, according to Plum tax collector Harry Schlegel.

That's because the average Plum resident saw a 12 percent increase in their home's assessed value this year, Schlegel said. That's due to the county reassessment.

The year before, the average Plum home saw an 11 percent jump in assessed value, Schlegel said.

"I'm saying, 'Enough's enough,' " Schlegel said Friday. "That's what people are screaming about is the double whammy."

The state's anti-windfall law prohibits districts from reaping increased revenues of more than 5 percent as a result of reassessment.

But taxing bodies such as school districts and boroughs do not have to count tax revenue for new construction that happens that year, Schlegel said.

In Plum, 155 houses were under construction last year, equaling more than $300,000 that didn't count for the borough and school district as pertains to the anti-windfall rule, Schlegel said.

The higher insurance costs and lower subsidy increases mentioned at Plum School District were a universal complaint among the Valley's battle-weary school business managers.

The budget year for school districts starts today, July 1.

Five Alle-Kiski school districts -Allegheny Valley, Burrell, New Kensington-Arnold, Riverview and South Butler County - managed to dodge a tax increase.

To avoid the increase some districts, such as New Kensington-Arnold, dipped into fund balances, which are like rainy day accounts to use when the boiler breaks down.

South Butler County officials negotiated new contracts with their maintenance and educational support personnel unions, and that reaped some savings, said district spokesman Todd O'Shell.

Together, those unions agreed to either freeze wages or eliminate positions, resulting in $700,000 savings to the school district, O'Shell said.

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