In an unexpected move, the Baldwin-Whitehall School Board shot down a recommendation by B-W School District administrators to .
Instead, a new 2012-13 budget plan adopted by the school board at its meeting on Wednesday night keeps 's taxes at a rate of 23.40 mills for at least another fiscal year.
And while votes on both budget plans were split—7-2 against raising taxes and 6-3 in favor of no increase—board members were unofficially unanimous in asserting that the district will eventually see its first tax increase since 2006-07. And that increase could be a large one sometime soon.
"We either do it today, or we do it tomorrow (next year or the year after)," said board member Kevin J. Fischer, who voted on the side of no tax increase on Wednesday.
As causes for a future increase, Fischer and other board members have cited variables like reductions in public education funding at the state and federal level and large increases in expenses related to employee benefits, such as a 43-percent jump in employer contribution to the Public School Employees' Retirement System (PSERS).
"If you want to maintain what you have, you have to pay," Fischer said. "I will not dig into programs."
Nevertheless, on Wednesday, he conceded, "I'm willing to bite it this year."
Even with a 0.5-mill increase, Baldwin-Whitehall would have had to dip into its fund balance—the budgetary surplus that the school board has been accumulating—in order to offset its final expected 2012-13 expenses of $59,744,709. The amount that would have been taken out of the fund balance was $638,985, but that will now be increased to $1,359,985 in order to make up for no tax increase.
"We are depleting our funds," argued board President John B. Schmotzer after voting 'yes' on a 0.5-mill increase and before voting 'no' on no tax increase.
Board member George L. Pry joined Schmotzer in both of those losing efforts. Diana Kazour also voted against no tax increase, but she voted against a 0.5-mill increase, as well.
"We need the half-mill increase to maintain the financial stability of this district," Schmotzer said, pointing out that the increase would still keep Baldwin-Whitehall's rate below what it was in 2006-07 (24.61 mills). "This school district has not raised taxes since the 2006-07 fiscal year. We have held taxes, and in fact, lowered taxes three years in a row.
"That's a pretty strong statement and a credit to this board."
Added Pry, in regard to pulling even more money from B-W's fund balance, which has been instrumental in helping the district to maintain a , "I don't believe this is the time to rob the piggy bank."
Dr. Randal A. Lutz, who will become the district's head superintendent on July 1, called the administration's recommended budget "the right thing to do" and "the responsible thing to do."
But after the recommended budget failed on Wednesday, board member Nancy Sciulli DiNardo proposed the successful no-tax-increase alternative, with more fund balance money being used.
Still, Sciulli DiNardo hinted at what the future might hold.
"I'm not entirely convinced that half a mill is going to solve our problem (anyway)," she said.
Added board member Larry Pantuso, who said that raising taxes will eventually happen, "There are a lot of unknowns yet."
The B-W School District's 23.40 millage rate equates to $2,340 per year for anyone with a property valued at $100,000 (land and building value combined). (Click here to calculate your individual taxes.)
Schmotzer reminded the public on Wednesday that Allegheny County reassessments that have raised property values (starting in 2013) in , and will cause B-W to adjust its 2013-14 millage rate so as to remain revenue neutral. Read .
Board member Nancy Lee Crowder said that raising the district's millage rate is not a good message to send to taxpayers during this time of assessments uncertainty.
Check back with the Baldwin-Whitehall Patch later on Thursday for more odds and ends from Wednesday night's school board meeting, including information on a number of , that led to the district's final budget number.
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