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NL passes proposed budget with 3.5% increase

Residents who live in the Northern Lehigh School District could see a 3.5% increase in their property taxes next year.

On an 8-1 vote, the school board on Monday adopted the proposed $35,832,687 general fund final budget for the 2020-21 school year.

Director Robert Keegan Jr., who cast the sole vote against the budget, explained his reasoning.

“I just can’t, for the life of me with what’s going on, that we are raising taxes,” Keegan said. “Most school districts are trying to give people a break, but we continue to raise the taxes and it disturbs me; it really disturbs me that we’re not looking at the families, particularly the ones that aren’t working, and we’re continuing to raise taxes. I can’t vote for this for that reason.”

The preliminary budget was adopted with a 23.43 millage rate for Lehigh County, and a 66.46 millage rate in Northampton County.

Superintendent Matthew J. Link reviewed the administration’s recommendations for the 2020-21 budget that stemmed from last week’s Finance Committee meeting.

Link said the tax increase would generate $455,000, which is the most the district can raise taxes within its adjusted Act 1 tax index.

He said the board is also looking into an extension of discount and face collection periods on real estate bills that would result in a reduction of $73,000 in revenues.

Link said the district continues to renegotiate its contract with Brandywine Transportation, which is ongoing.

He said the district will also continue to look for opportunities to decrease expenses and/or increase revenues as more information becomes available on funding from the CARES Act, particularly through components to the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund, as well as federal funding elementary/secondary emergency relief funding as well.

“We’re still waiting on answers, and that seems to be the common theme,” Link said. “The information is coming out more slowly now; and it does look like there’s going to be a number of strings attached to however this money is released to the school districts.”

That’s one of the reasons Link said the board is looking to schedule a second board meeting on June 22 “so we have the longest time possible to approve the final budget.”

Link said the district is looking at utilizing its fund balance to cover its additional deficit of $2,487,201, based on a 3.5 percent tax increase.

In addition, he said the district continues to explore bond refinancing, to decrease expenditures in the near future and spread cost out over time, which could lower the amount utilized from fund balance out of the upcoming budget process.

“We know that a concern is that we do not rapidly want to deplete the fund balance, so we’re looking at options there,” he said. “So far those conversations seem favorable.”

Board President Gary Fedorcha told Keegan that while he understood, the board will continue to meet to discuss the budget between new and final adoption.

Last June, the district adopted a $35,714,360 general fund budget for the 2019-2020 school year.

That spending plan called for a 22.51 millage rate for Lehigh County and a 66.01 millage rate for Northampton County.