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Tamaqua looks to keep school budget within tax index

Published December 15. 2010 05:00PM

The Tamaqua Area School District faced a decision regarding its budget process for the 2011-12 fiscal year.

Under Act 72, the district could target preliminary budget adoption for May, 2011, but it would need a resoliution that it will not raise real estate taxes above an index established by the commonwealth's Department of Education.

The district's other option would be to adopt the tentative budget 90 days prior to the May Primary Election, which would move the timeline for preparation up to February.

Under the former instance, Tamaqua Area would be locked into not raising taxes above the index, which for next year is 1.9 percent of its 33.36 millage rate. That would be a maximum increase of .63 mills, according to Business Manager Connie Ligenza.

In the latter case, the district would have more leeway with setting tax millage during the budget process.

Tamaqua Area has done both with its budget preparation, but on Tuesday evening the district's Finance Committee voted to follow the blueprint from last year and go along with the first option for tentative adoption in May.

The district's current $27.5 million budget for 2010-11 included a 1.25 mill property tax increase.

While school board directors expressed a desire not to raise taxes for 2011-12, Ligenza suggested the district not close the door.

"By doing the budget in January, it keeps options open," she said. "We would have options to explore revenue sources through special exceptions, but we must prove need in the preliminary budget.

"Our index is so low, it leaves us very little in procuring additional revenue from real estate tax."

Ligenza explained the state educational subsidies are expected to be cut 10-12 percent next year, which would mean $700,000 less for Tamaqua Area. The district also faces a retirement rate increase of about eight percent.

"The state used ARRA (federal stimulus) money to fill education line items, but that won't be there this year," she added.

If the district would have a property tax hike at the maximum level of the index (.63 mills), that would generate about $170,000 in revenue.

"Where do they expect is to come up with $1 million?" asked Board Treasurer Daniel E. Schoener, who chairs the Finance Committee.

Ligenza mentioned that the district has applied for special exceptions in several areas in the past, most notably for special education and retirement funding.

Board President Larry A. Wittig favored keeping to the May budget track. "I don't know anyone on the planet who will vote for a tax increase his year," he said.

Both Ligenza and Superintendent Carol Makuta said that a drawback with preparing a budget in January is that some of the figures, such as state subsidies, must be estimated, as the hard numbers are not yet available.

"Last year we bumped it up (to May) in anticipation of gloom and doom, but in practice, it's a moot exercise," said Wittig. "This will give us breathing room to put together a realistic budget for May.

"You're trying to do the right thing, being conservative with money because of the unknown, but if you go down the road, you will have more realistic numbers."

The board will consider a resolution not to raise taxes above the index at its monthly meeting next Tuesday.

Band trips

The board's Auxiliary Committee discussed two requests by Tamaqua Area High School Band Director John F. Potlunas, on behalf of the band boosters, to take the Raider Band on two out of state trips.

One trip was a visit to Inner Harbor, Baltimore, Md., on Saturday, May 21, which does not involve the loss of any school time.

The other trip is for the Raider Band to perform at a Disney World theme park. The booster club raises funds for the Florida trip, which happens about every five years.

Three options were provided for the Disney trip: Nov. 25-29, 2011, which would mean missing one school day; and either Dec. 7-10, 2011 or Feb. 15-18, 2011, which would involve three missed school days.

While the Thanksgiving, 2011 trip seemed to be the top option, High School Principal RuthAnn Gardiner and Athletics Director Michael Hromyak noted that those dates could overlap with state football playoffs, should the Blue Raiders qualify and advance that far.

Makuta said she would continue dialogue as to the best option for the Florida trip.

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