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3.9% property tax hike seems likely next year

Published June 02. 2010 05:00PM

A 3.9-percent property tax increase appears inevitable in the Palmerton Area School District next year.

At least, that seemed to be the general consensus of the school board's Curriculum, Athletics, Personnel and Policy Committee on Tuesday.

District business manager Lisa Vignone gave an updated budget comparison that would result in a $122,758 reduction from the previously approved preliminary budget.

Vignone said both Towamensing Elementary and S.S. Palmer Elementary were able to reduce their respective budgets by $10,800; the junior high school by $11,422; the senior high school by $13,400; and the district's maintenance budget by $76,336.

That, Vignone said, would reduce the preliminary budget to $26,466,378, and would leave a fund balance of $923,034.

If granted final adoption, that spending plan would raise the millage rate by 1.64 mills, from 42 to 43.64 mills; the maximum the board can raise the property tax rate under the Act 1 index.

That would mean a person with a home valued at $100,000, and assessed at $50,000, would pay $2,182 in property taxes to the district next year, $82 more than this year's $2,100 rate.

The committee's recommendation comes one week after the school board discussed the 2010-11 budget at a special meeting.

In May, the board on an 8-1 vote granted tentative adoption of the then $26,589,136 preliminary budget which called for a 1.64 mill increase.

Salaries and benefits are set to increase by $229,141, from $15,205,016 in 2009-10 to $15,434,157 in 2010-11.

However, the amount of grants the district will receive will decrease by $28,210, from $1,187,527 in 2009-10 to $1,159,317in 2010-11.

Another option presented to the committee included an additional full-day kindergarten teacher position at the Parkside Education Center.

Superintendent Carol Boyce said Towamensing Elementary already has a half-day kindergarten teacher this year, but won't need it next year. As a result, she said the half-day kindergarten teacher will come over to the Parkside Education Center next year.

"We have a need for restoring that other part of [the half-day kindergarten position] to full-day kindergarten [at Parkside]," Boyce said.

Boyce said the district already has one full-day kindergarten teacher on staff at Towamensing for 10 students, while Parkside has one full-day kindergarten teacher for 28 students.

She said the district utilized a kindergarten screening process to arrive at its conclusion.

However, committee member Tina Snyder said she didn't agree with the rationale of the concept.

"I thought this program was to get those students that need a push," Snyder said. "It almost seems like we're trying to go to full-day kindergarten."

Boyce said the cost to move the position from part-time to full-time at Parkside would be $32,600.

Still, Snyder said she couldn't see the logic behind the proposal.

"That is not standard testing," Snyder said. "It's skewing your data."

Committee member Carol Dwyer agreed with Snyder.

"I think there's something wrong with the data," Dwyer said. "Last year, you're testing them with apples; this year, you're testing them with oranges."

Committee member Michael Ballard said he would vote for a full-day kindergarten teacher.

But, committee member Carl Bieling said he didn't agree with the testing process, which Boyce said she took exception with.

"I have to take issue with that," Boyce said. "I am using the data that was given to me by the people who know, and that's our school psycologist, principal, nurse, guidance counselor and school nurse."

Snyder said her reluctance to support the full-day kindergarten teacher was not a reflection on the students.

"For anybody to say I'm not for education, I take exception to that," Snyder said. "It's just a huge increase."

The board is expected to vote on the Parkside Education Center full-day kindergarten position, as well as the final adoption of the budget, when it meets at 7 p.m. June 15.

Last year, the district adopted a budget for the 2009-10 school year that called for a 2.44 percent, or 1 mill, increase.

The $25,488,593 spending plan raised the millage rate from 41 to 42 mills. That meant a person who owned a $100,000 home, which was assessed at $50,000, paid $2,100, or $50 more, to the district in property taxes.

Before that, the last time the district raised property taxes was in the 2007-08 school year, when it passed a budget with a 2.5 percent increase.

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