Tamaqua Area School District residents will pay more in real estate taxes next year.

The district's board of education finalized its $27.47 million spending plan for 2010-2011 Tuesday evening.

The budget increases the district's tax millage rate by 1.25 mills, from 32.11 to 33.36.

The 3.8 percent rise in property tax is the first increase for the district in four years. Tamaqua Area last increased its millage rate in 2007. One mill generates approximately $300,000 in revenue.

The tax hike means that property owners will pay an additional $1.25 per each $1,000 of assessed value. Schuylkill Country assesses real estate at 50 percent of its market value.

For example, a home assessed at $10,000 will see its property tax bill increase $12.50 for 2010-2011, from $321.10 to $333.60.

Business manager Connie Ligenza said the tax increase will help cover a rise in special education costs, as well as an increase in the district's contribution to the Pennsylvania Public School Employee Retirement System (PSERS). Ligenza stated that Tamaqua's share to PSERS went up to 8.22 percent of its payroll, an increase of roughly 78 percent.

The district will also look to narrow a list of potential capital projects, which currently exceeds $700,000. Ligenza said the board will look to pare down that total next month. One project that is heading the list is renovations to the high school locker rooms.

Ligenza said the district would have $1 million to work with for capital projects, pending how the state budget shapes up.

The budget calls for $25,952,612 in anticipated revenue and $27,470,664 in expected expenses. In addition to the increase in property tax revenue, the district will use some of its fund balance toward the budget, which will lower the balance from $3,788,884 at the end of the current 2009-2010 fiscal year on July 1 to $2,248,832 on June 30, 2011.

The budget also includes a $225 assessed occupation tax, $10 in per capita taxes, earned income and real estate transfer taxes of 1 percent and an EMS tax of $5. EIT, real estate transfer and EMS taxes are shared with a resident's municipality.

The board also established the Homestead/Farmstead Exclusion for 2010-2011 at $142 for eligible properties, compared to the 2009-2010 rate of $143. The rate is realized as a discount to homeowner's real estate tax bills.

The district set the tax collection periods as July through August as the rebate period (2 percent discount); face period from September to October; and the penalty period of 10 percent for November to December.

The board established tuition rates for 2010-11 based on the certified rates for 2009-2010. Kindergarten (for half day) was set at $3,980; elementary at $7,959; and secondary at $10,233.

The district also approved the salary and benefit schedules for its administration and non-contract employees, utilizing a cost of living adjustment (COLA) increase of 2.7 percent. Tamaqua is currently negotiating new contracts with its service personnel and teachers union, both of which expire this year.

Solar study

In other financial business, the board authorized its administration to enter into an agreement with Cross River Solar, a Kenyon Energy Company, to conduct a feasibility study for the installation and maintenance of a photovoltaic system for the school district.

Cross River Solar, with offices located in Easton and New Jersey, will conduct the study at no cost to the district. If feasible, the firm would assist the district in seeking grant funding for the installation of solar panels somewhere on district property. Approximately two acres of land would be needed. The solar energy generated would then be used by the district's energy grid, resulting in a savings on energy bills. Any excess energy generated would be sold off by Cross River.

The board also ratified an extension of its current electricity procurement arrangement, which Provident Energy negotiates for a consortium.

The extension is for an 18-month period to and including June 30, 2013 and is with Exelon Energy at a price of $.0602 per kilowatt hour, a savings of 5.5 percent over its current rate of $.0647 per kwh.

The district will also lease three copies for the high school from the Xerox Corporation for a 60-month period, at a cost not to exceed $1,216 per month. The lease utilizes a state purchasing contract. The board also approved the purchase of one copier for the administrative office at a cost to to exceed $4,000.

The board accepted a quote of $9,999 from Modernfold of Topton, Berks County, for repairing the existing dual coil wall in the Tamaqua Elementary School gym.

The board approved a licensing program maintenance agreement with Weidenhamer, Inc. to support the district's financial software for 2010-11 at a total cost of $5,980, which covers payroll, bidding and purchasing and budgetary accounting software. The amount is prorated pending the district's purchase of the upgraded Alio System when it becomes available.

The district also accepted $188,142 from the estate of Mary C. Wolfe for the purpose of establishing a student scholarship fund; purchased ECHO 360 Video Capture equipment for $20,000; and bought West Penn phone systems from Dauphin DataComm in the amount of $21,000. The latter purchases were made with PA Pact funding.