The Panther Valley school board embarked on the journey toward its 2012-13 budget Thursday with the approval of a $24.7 million proposed preliminary spending plan that calls for a 2 mill property tax increase.

Now, officials will begin the work of paring down the tax hike. On Jan. 24, the board expects to adopt a preliminary budget. the budget will be available to the public for 20 days before that date.

The board voted 8-1, with roy Angst opposing, to approve the projected spending plan.

It's still too early for Business Manager Kenneth Marx Jr. to say how any resulting tax hike would be divvied up between the two counties, Carbon and Schuylkill, in which the district lies.

Superintendent Rosemary Porembo offered her thoughts on this year's budget process.

"The district is preparing a budget with no concrete figures from the state or the federal governments in funding levels or formulas, so we prepared for the worst-case scenario at this point. Without having those figures, we are just using numbers we have from last year," she said.

Porembo listed some of the major cost increases: Salaries (the board is negotiating contracts with three groups), and the pension fund, whose rate is set by the state. The rate has increased for the last four years, with the school district's contribution soaring from 5.64 percent to 16.93 percent by 2013-14.

Also, heating fuel costs are rising, with no end in sight.

This year, the school district levied a real estate tax of 52.24 mills on the Coaldale, Schuylkill County, side (a 3.13 mill increase), and 55.69 mills on the Carbon County side.

That meant the owner of a Coaldale property assessed for taxes at $25,000 paid $1,306 this year. The owner of a building of equal value on the Carbon County side paid $1,392.25.

The tax helped fuel a $23.8 million budget.