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Palmerton considers small tax increase

Palmerton Area School District will look to put a small dent in a nearly $2 million anticipated budget deficit with a half-mill property tax increase following a 5-1 school board approval of its preliminary 2018-19 budget Tuesday night.

A vote on the final budget will be taken at the June 19 meeting.

The increase would cost a property owner with an average property assessment of $45,000 an extra $21.

Resident Steve Trainer urged the board to reconsider, stating it still has a healthy fund balance based on numbers presented earlier this month.

Final numbers from its auditors had Palmerton’s fund balance at over $9 million following the 2016-17 school year. Budgeted projections have the fund balance dropping down to $7.82 million after the 2017-18 school year. The 2018-19 budget, presented at a workshop two weeks ago, showed the estimated fund balance at the end of 2018-19 at $5.86 million.

“That is about 20 percent of your budget,” Trainer told the board. “I would look at other avenues to take that deficit down. I don’t see a reason we need to raise taxes.”

Raising taxes by a half-mill would generate an added $144,000 in revenue for the district.

“I understand Mr. Trainer’s concern, but you look at a half-mill and that is next to nothing,” board President Barry Scherer said. “We’re facing a $2 million deficit. If the district continues to budget in this fashion, in two or three years we won’t have a fund balance and it’s impossible to make that fund balance up.”

Scherer said the board did a lot of soul searching on a proposed tax increase, but the majority felt a gentle raise would be better than no increase or a higher increase.

Director Charles Gildner, who voted no on the preliminary budget, said during the budget workshop, “we’re projecting a $1.9 million deficit. I just don’t think an extra $144,000 on the backs of our taxpayers is going to put a huge dent in that.”

When asked by resident Jeff Henry what contributed to the need for a tax increase, business manager Ryan Kish cited an increase in salaries and pension, two years of retroactive payments to teachers after the settling of a contract totaling $810,000, and a proposed plan to add two districtwide police officers.

The added police positions, factoring in supplies and transportation, would total $190,000.

Other line items in the budget for 2018-19 include a new junior high custodian position and a new high school life skills class with a teacher, aide and supplies.

Marching band uniforms are also a part of the budget as well as a new baseball scoreboard, high school gymnasium scoreboard, football play clock and football sled.