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Palmerton preliminary tax increase at 12.6 percent

Published February 09. 2011 05:00PM

While far from a polished product, Palmerton Area School District's revised 2011-12 preliminary budget calls for a 12.6 percent increase in property taxes.

Part-time interim acting business manager Donna Les informed school board members at a committee workshop on Tuesday that next year's preliminary budget in its present form calls for a 5.5-mill increase in the property tax rate.

If the board were to approve next year's preliminary budget as it is currently constructed, it would raise the millage rate from 43.64 to 49.14 mills, which would mean a person with a home valued at $100,000 and assessed at $50,000 would pay $2,455, or about $275 more in property taxes to the district next year. Les said that would equate to about $23 more a month.

But, director Carol Dwyer noted that "people on fixed incomes aren't going to get a $23 (a month) increase."

However, director Michael Ballard cautioned the budget is only preliminary.

Superintendent Carol Boyce said the district's administrative heads are "trying to be creative and looking for additional forms of revenue."

At a meeting of the board's Budget and Finance Committee on Monday, Les said next year's spending plan had to be reworked in order to avoid an additional 2.72-mill increase on top of a 3.56-mill, or 8.15 percent, increase in the 2011-12 preliminary budget the board agreed to advertise for adoption at last month's meeting.

Les told the committee the amount of money the district budgeted for its share of the 2011-12 Carbon Career & Technical Institute budget was understated by about $351,060.

That, coupled with the loss of $426,051 in federal program money, would have required an additional 2.72-mill increase in the district's 2011-12 preliminary budget, Les said.

Boyce acknowledged that a reconciliation of billing showed that the district has "been significantly underbudgeting for the last several years."

Les said the reconciliation was completed in November.

"At that building cycle, Palmerton had a massive amount (it owed)," Les said. "We want to get away from relying on fund balance, because you really don't have that to rely on anymore."

Les said revisions to next year's preliminary budget increased expenditures $555,498, from $26.8 million to $27.3 million, which represents a 1.95-mill increase over the initial preliminary budget.

Boyce said she and Les "will be talking with every building administrator" in an effort to re-evaluate their respective spending plans.

Les cautioned that the preliminary budget is not etched in stone.

"There is room yet for things to be adjusted," Les said. "It's a work in progress."

The board plans to adopt the 2011-12 preliminary budget when it meets at 7 p.m. Feb. 15.

Last month, the board agreed to advertise the preliminary budget, which at the time called for an 8.15 percent, or 3.56-mill, increase in their property tax rates next year.

That would have increased the millage rate from 43.64 to 47.20 mills, which would have meant a person with a home valued at $100,000 and assessed at $50,000 would have paid $2,360, or about $180 more in property taxes next year.

The board's decision came on the heels of a budget workshop agenda with budget process basics presented by Les prior to its regular meeting.

Les told the board at that time that of the $1.7 million the district had in its fund balance, only $730,000 remains after the other $923,000 was used to balance the current year's budget.

However, Les cautioned that the preliminary budget is only a rough draft, and therefore could be modified between now and final adoption due by June 30.

As required by Act 1 of 2006, the board intends to seek approval from the Pennsylvania Department of Education, or the Carbon County Court, for all referendum exceptions for which the district qualifies.

On written request by any school district resident or taxpayer, the district will provide a copy of the referendum exception application.

In December, the committee met with each of the district's department heads as part of a pair of meetings in its attempt to craft next year's spending plan.

This year, homeowners saw a 3.9 percent, or 1.64-mill increase, in their property tax rates after the board in June approved the 2010-11 budget on a 5-4 vote that raised the millage rate from 42 to 43.64 mills.

That meant a person with a home valued at $100,000, which was assessed at $50,000, paid $2,182 in property taxes to the district, $82 more than the $2,100 rate they paid in 2009-10 when the board passed a budget with a 2.44 percent, or 1 mill, increase that resulted in a $50 increase for residents with the same home value.

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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