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Preliminary budget calls for 9.1 percent tax hike

Published November 03. 2011 05:01PM

Though highly inflated, Palmerton Area School District's 2012-13 preliminary budget calls for a 9.1-percent increase in the property tax rate.

The school board on an 8-0 vote at a special board meeting on Wednesday agreed to advertise for adoption next year's preliminary budget with a 4.46-mill increase. Director Carol Dwyer was absent.

Also as part of that motion, the board agreed to apply for potential exceptions the district may qualify for, such as debt service, retirement contributions and special education.

The board is expected to adopt the preliminary budget when it meets at 5:45 p.m. Dec. 6. By law, the district has until Jan. 25 to adopt a preliminary budget.

If the board were to approve a budget with a 4.46-mill increase, that would raise the millage rate from 49.14 to 53.60 mills. That would mean a person with a home valued at $100,000 and assessed at $50,000 would pay $2,680, or $223 more in property taxes to the district next year. However, that amount would be reduced by the gaming revenue, of which the district won't know until later this fiscal year.

Donna Les, interim business manager, said current assumptions are as follows: medical insurance, budget increase of 6-percent; retirement contribution, budgeted 12.19-percent based upon projections; Carbon Career & Technical Institute, budgeted increase of 2-percent; Special Education placements, budgeted increase of $244,900; athletics, which includes the elimination of wrestling, cross country, golf and tennis; a millage rate budgeted adjusted index increase of 2.3-percent, or 1.13-additional mills; and state revenue, budgeted zero-percent increase with Accountability Block Grant included.

Les said the 2012-13 use of fund balance - due to the reinstatement of staff furloughed in 2011-12 - is $272,486.

As per the 2012-13 preliminary budget, Les said revenue comes in at $26,598,973, while expenditures come in at $27,817,801, which leaves a $946,342 shortfall.

Les said the district could see an impact in several major categories: medical insurance rate, $290,446; retirement rate, $348,800; Special Education placements, $244,914; IU Transportation (the 2011-12 budget was too low) $141,788; CCTI, $159,244; supplies, $140,322; books, $44,846; and budget reserve, $70,000.

She then reviewed the department budgets with the board, and said "the staff did a fabulous job in putting together their preliminary budgets."

Les said her recommendation to the board was to "submit the preliminary budget as it currently stands."

However, Les cautioned that the millage rate had to be artificially inflated in order to provide a balanced budget document, and that it doesn't reflect the actual millage impact, which won't be determined until June of 2012.

"This will give us some working time from the point of preliminary approval in November to final approval in June," Les said. "We are still working with too many unknowns."

Among the unknowns Les alluded to:

- Whether the district will get a 2-percent increase in state funding, which if received, would result in $143,025 in additional revenue for Basic and Special Education.

- Whether Accountability Block Grant money will be included in the state budget.

- What the exception filing will look like, as it was substantially changed with the passage of the 2011-12 state budget, and preliminary calculations cannot be done at this point in time.

- The amount of the Carbon Career & Technical Institute and Lehigh Carbon Community College budgets, which has left the district to work with only guesstimates.

- How much the taxable assessment will change between now and the mid-November.

- Medical insurance renewal information, which, depending upon the district's trust fund balance, could result in a smaller increase that could reflect a potential budget reduction of anywhere from zero to $179,383.

- The actual retirement rate, which won't be certified until December, and may be different than the published estimated rate.

"I don't think it would be appropriate to start speaking of furloughs when there are so many unanswered questions," Les said. "It is just a matter of making sure that the public is well informed of what we are doing and why."

This year, residents saw a 12.6-percent increase in their property tax rates after the board, on a 5-4 vote in June, adopted a $26,595,297 spending plan for the 2011-12 school year that called for a 5.506-mill increase.

The 2011-12 budget raised the millage rate from 43.64 to 49.14 mills, and meant a person with a home valued at $100,000 that was assessed at $50,000 had to pay $2,457, or $277 more in property taxes to the district.

In other business, the board:

- Approved, on a 6-2 vote, Sherrie Fenner, Mary Brumbach, and Dan Heaney to attend The Pennsylvania Department of Education's (PDE) SAS Institute, Defining and Aligning for Student Achievement from Dec. 4-7 in Hershey, at the cost of about $958. Directors Carl Bieling and Susan Debski were opposed.

- Approved the addition of Bethany Swink, Elementary Certification, to the day-to-day substitute teacher list effective Nov. 3, 2011.

- Approved Eileen Heiney as a day-to-day substitute cafeteria worker effective Nov. 3, 2011.

- Approved Richard Bowman as a day-to-day substitute custodian, effective Nov. 3, 2011.

- Suspended, without pay, professional employee PPID #9414039, effective Oct. 31, 2011, pending resolution of legal investigation.

- Approved Teambuilding and Roles & Responsibilities training for the school board on Jan. 7, 2011, at the Administration Building at the cost of $1,400 plus travel expenses.

- Amended the approval from last month for the donation of $100 from the Towamensing PTO, Inc., to the PHS National Honor Society Activity Club for babysitting services for meetings.

- Accepted the Reciprocal Agreement for Mass Care & Shelter with Lehighton Area School District.

- Approved the advertising of the Earned Income Tax Resolution.

- Acknowledged compliance with Act 32 and the use of Centax as EIT collector.

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