The sting of school district real estate tax bills mailed out this month might not feel as painful for Tamaqua area property owners after an announcement Tuesday night.

According to a report issued at the monthly regular meeting of the Tamaqua Area School District board of directors, the local district has one of the lowest tax millage rates among 14 school districts in the Schuylkill County area.

Tamaqua Area's taxation rate of 33.36 mills puts the district among the 'most-favorables,' next only to the Tri-Valley School District millage rate of 20.02 and St. Clair Area School District's rate of 29.79. It was noted that the St. Clair district does not operate a high school, sending those secondary students to Pottsville Area.

Connie Ligenza, school district business manager, shared the data with directors attending the session at the all-purpose meeting room inside the Tamaqua Area Middle School. She said the chart and its data did not originate in her office but came from a different district.

"A business manager shared the data," said Ligenza, "and the good news is we're third lowest."

Ligenza also cautioned that the data could possibly vary just a bit as the time frame of the survey wasn't indicated and last-minute fluctuations were a possibility at any given district.

At the higher end, Shenandoah Valley School District tops the 14 districts with a millage rate of 53.30. Panther Valley School District is second highest at 49.12 mills. Third highest is Mahanoy Area at 44.80 mills.

Other local districts on the chart, from high to low in terms of millage rates, include: Pine Grove, 39.90 mills, Hazleton Area, 39.65 mills, Schuylkill Haven, 39.25 mills, Minersville, 38.67 mills, North Schuylkill, 36.79 mills, Blue Mountain, 35.88 mills, Pottsville Area, 34.00 mills, and Williams Valley, 33.71 mills.

A mill is typically equal to $1 of tax for each $1,000 of assessed property value. Schuylkill County assesses real estate at 50 percent of market value. At Tamaqua Area, one mill generates approximately $300,000 in revenue.

Board President Larry Wittig commented that many variables go into calculating a millage rate. For instance, one factor is the composition of housing stock of various assessed valuations, a variable that differs from district to district.

The Tamaqua district last increased taxes in the 2010-11 school year. At that time the board increased the district's tax millage rate by 1.25 mills, from 32.11 to the current 33.36. With that hike a home assessed at $10,000, full value $20,000, saw its school district property tax bill increased $12.50, from $321.10 to $333.60.

That 3.8 percent rise in property tax was the first increase for the district in four years. Before that Tamaqua Area had last increased its millage rate in 2007.

Even with the increase in 2010-11 the district still achieved its rank among the lowest in tax millage rates in the county.

The district was facing a $1.3 million budget shortfall earlier this year and took dramatic cost-cutting measures across the board. At the time the board was looking to achieve a 2.2 percent increase in revenue.

For a time the board had considered a .74-mill tax hike along with elimination of school busing for students living within 1.5 miles of a school, essentially every borough student with the exception of Owl Creek.

However, after several marathon budget workshop sessions and by making adjustments to curriculum offerings and trimming staff, the board was able to hold the line on taxes and still provide full busing services.

Districts across Pennsylvania continue to be negatively impacted by increases in their mandatory contribution to the Pennsylvania Public School Employee Retirement System and unfunded state mandates.