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Tentative budget includes 1.25 mill hike

Published May 04. 2010 05:00PM

Tamaqua Area School District residents are facing a 3.8 percent property tax increase for the 2010-2011 school year.

At a special meeting Monday evening the district's board of education adopted a $27.5 million tentative budget that includes a 1.25 mill real estate tax hike.

If finalized as it stands, the district's millage rate would rise from the current 32.11 mills to 33.36. It would be Tamaqua Area's first increase in four years; the last one came in 2007.

The millage increase would generate approximately $300,000 in tax revenue for the district according to business manager Connie Ligenza.

Board President Larry A. Wittig noted most of the added tax revenue will be needed to cover a 72 percent increase in the school district's contribution to the state's Public School Employee Retirement System (PSERS) for 2011, which will mean shelling out an additional $182,000.

The district is also currently in the final year of contracts with its teachers and service personnel and is in the process of negotiating new pacts.

A 1.25 mill increase means resident property owners would pay an additional $1.25 per every $1,000 of assessed value.

For example, a home valued at $20,000 and assessed at 50 percent of that value, $10,000, currently has an annual real estate bill of $321.10; next year, if the proposed increase is adopted, that tax bill would be $333.60, an increase of $12.50.

Ligenza said there has been minimal change with the budget since it was first proposed to the board on March 31.

Anticipated revenue has decreased $22,000, to $25,952,612, as the district has finalized its projected transportation costs.

As for expenses, there is a slight increase of about $33,000, to $27,470,664, due to the need for an extra paraprofessional to provide one-on-one support for a special needs student through the Schuylkill Intermediate Unit 29.

The district is projecting a fund balance of $2,238,742 at the end of the 2010-11 fiscal year.

Ligenza said the budget is actually on the conservative side and does not include higher state subsidy figures for the district, staying with a more modest 2 percent subsidy increase.

Part of the reason is that the district received a letter from the Pennsylvania Senate cautioning school districts to be frugal when budgeting subsidies for next year.

Ligenza read the letter, which was signed by Senate President Pro Tempore Joseph B. Scarnati, Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, Appropriations Chairman Jake Corman and Senate Education Chair Jeffrey E. Piccola, advising that the state's budget deficit has grown from $450 million to $1 billion and that there is no guaranteed level of funding for 2010-11.

Capital projects

At the previous budget session, facilities manager Arthur Oakes, Jr., submitted a list of potential capital projects from throughout the district. The projects' total cost was $2.6 million. The board asked Oakes to resubmit a prioritized list.

Oakes resubmitted a list of Top 12 projects, which totaled $1.1 million.

Topping Oakes' list was the renovation of the girls locker room at the high school, which came in at $425,000.

"That's a house," said Wittig.

Other projects under consideration: high school bathroom upgrades ($40,000); middle school security system ($26,000); middle school loading dock repairs ($12,000); new air conditioning units for West Penn Elementary ($120,000); fire alarm upgrades for West Penn ($24,000), and Rush and Tamaqua Elementary schools ($20,000 each); a new gym floor for Rush ($48,000); basement mold removal for the district office ($11,500); repairs to the Rush Elementary roof ($250,000); and new flooring for Rush ($112,000).

Ligenza explained the budget carries $200,000 for capital projects as a line item, and $130,000 is available though recent bond refinancings. That gives the district $330,000 to work with, although the board could approve an additional transfer from the capital reserve fund.

"Are we looking at a two-year plan or a four-year plan?" asked Daniel E. Schoener, the board's treasurer. "At $425,000, it (the girls locker room) will end up being a two-year plan."

Oakes said he recommended a one-year plan and at most a two-year plan for these projects.

The board is looking for final adoption of the budget for its June 18 meeting. The fiscal year ends June 30.

Koons resigns

In other business, the board accepted a letter of resignation from Gregory Koons, the district's special education director, effective July 1.

Superintendent Carol Makuta said Koons is leaving to take a position with the Luzerne County Intermediate Unit.

Homebound instruction for a student was approved and the district approved an agreement with Pa. Treatment and Healing, a center for at-risk youth, for 2010-2011.

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