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No tax hike likely for Panther Valley residents

Published May 10. 2013 05:03PM

Property owners in the Panther Valley School District won't see a tax increase this year.

The board, on a 6-2 vote, approved a $24.5 million proposed final budget that calls for the property tax rate to stay the same, at 55.690 mills on the Carbon County side of the district, and at 52.240 in Coaldale, on the Schuylkill County side.

That means the owner of a property with a tax assessment of $25,000 would continue to pay $1,392 in Carbon County, and $1,306 in Coaldale.

School directors Michelle Markovich, Anthony DeMarco, Richard Zabroski, Koreen Nalesnik, Irene Genther, and President Jeff Markovich voted in favor of the zero-mill increase.

Bill Hunsicker and R. "Mickey" Angst were opposed.

"I'm 'no' on the whole business," Angst said.

The board was given three options: Vote for a 2 mill increase, a 1 mill increase, or the zero mill increase.

Zabroski and Hunsicker voted in favor of the 1 mill option; no one voted for the 2 mill option.

The board expects to adopt a final spending plan when it meets June 13.

But while taxpayers may be happy that their bills won't increase this year, the good news is likely to be a temporary lull. Business Manager Kenneth R. Marx Jr. has warned that avoiding a small tax increase this year means a bigger threat next year.

"I believe the board's intention is to not raise taxes in these tough economic times, and rely on the district fund balance to fund future expenditures for another year," he said after the meeting.

At an April 17 Budget and Finance Committee meeting, Marx warned that the district cannot continue to use its reserve fund to bridge budget gaps. The state recommends the fund be about 8 percent of any given year's expenses, and Panther Valley's is now close to that.

The district has made deep and controversial cuts to close a $1.6 million budget. It saved $623,925 through cuts that include an administrative pay freeze, educator furloughs, retirement savings, reducing the hours of paraprofessionals, planned custodial furloughs, and the board's decision to not consider a $2,000 contribution to the Panther Valley Public Library.

The Budget and Finance Committee has also discussed combining some high school bus runs, shutting down at least one building during the summer, adjusting custodial shifts to reduce overtime, going to a four-day workweek for the summer, and finding less expensive computer repair options.

At the April 17 meeting, Marx also said that, had the district imposed a half-mill increase last year, it would not need one this year. If the district does not increase the rate by 2.040 mills in Carbon County and 1.670 in Coaldale this year, it will have to double the increase next year, Marx said at the meeting.

"My recommendation is, we haven't raised taxes for the last three years in Carbon ... if we don't raise taxes this year, that's $300,000 you're losing for next year," Marx said at the time. "If we don't raise 2 mills this year, we'll have to raise 4 mills next year, or come up with $600,000 in cuts."

Superintendent Rosemary Porembo has also cautioned taxpayers about the district's financial trajectory.

On Feb. 28 public meeting, she said the fund balance has been diminishing. It has dropped from $5.3 million at the end of the 2011 fiscal year to a projected $3.9 million by July, the end of this fiscal year. If the district continues to use the fund balance to balance the budget, she projected the balance to drop to $1.5 million by the end of next year, and to be in deficit by the end of 2015.

"We will not have enough to cover our bills, and 2015 is not too far off. We're cutting into the muscle. We're cutting into the vital organs. I'm shaken. We're trying our best," Porembo said at that meeting.

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