Letter to the Editor: More SVSD Taxing Pain Greets Property Owners
Letter writer Earl Grubbs offers his suggestions on how Seneca Valley officials should handle future budget shortfalls without increasing property taxes.
During the June 25, 2012 SVSD Board Meeting to approve a 4.4 mill increase of the 2012-2013 budget which culminated in a 10-percent homeowner tax increase over the past two years, one SVSD board member indicated that "we have cut the 2012-2013 budget to the bone," another targeted the Commonwealth for the SVSD budget ills and one even had the audacity to say "We could have raised taxes to 5.71 mils as an exception approved by the state."
That being said, it is worthy of note that our increased homeowner taxes are funding 12 administrators with salaries from $100K to $163K, eight employees with $90K-$99K range, 172 employees with salaries of $80K to $89K, 154 employees with salaries in the $60K-$69K range, 148 employees with salaries of $50K-$60K, plus 303 employees with salaries less than $50K.
In addition to the above, SVSD also grants a very lucrative benefits package consisting of medical, dental, vision and life insurance along with tuition reimbursement. It is my belief that most SVSD employees are more than adequately compensated.
In addition to the 499 full time classroom teachers (includes nurses, librarians, special subject and special education teachers) for the SVSD's 7,400 students, which equate to an overall average of 14.83 students per class (note: actual classroom size varies from low to mid 20s when factoring out the aforementioned specialized teachers), our increased taxes also support two assistant superintendants, 11 directors, seven assistant principals, three deans of students, 11 guidance counselors and 84 teacher assistants to support SVSD's nine schools.
Of the 811 SVSD employees, 62 percent are dedicated to teaching our children while 38 percent support their efforts. With respect to the aforementioned, I do not support the board member postulate that "we have cut to the bone" and "all the ills of SVSD budget are caused by the Commonwealth's PSERS."
In many cases we have "layered" the system with professional staff in which I believe we do not have the financial resources to support these additional "nice to have, but not absolutely essential" positions.
While there are a plethora of issues in play like pension reform, over spending, homeowner vs. non-homeowner taxes, and does increasing taxes beyond state guidelines greatly enhance the education of our children(?), we all are responsible for educating our future generation, but not at the expense of constantly being overtaxed on our homes year over year.
While I believe in proffering a solid education for our future citizens of tomorrow, I also believe that all of us must learn to live within our limited financial means.
If you believe the taxing pain was excruciatingly painful this budget cycle with the 4.4 mill rate increase and that the tax increase pain will stop after 2012— probably not.
No doubt you will desire to view SVSD's estimated contribution increase to the PSERS (Public School Employee Retirement System) from $5.67 Million in the 2012-2013 school year to $12.7 Million by the 2016-2017 school year, a $7 million shortfall.
And to fill this shortfall, we the homeowners will pay for this budget shortfall with increased taxes over the next four years unless the SVSD school board takes preemptive action now to resolve this issue.
How can the SVSD school fill the PSERS $7 million and other monetary shortfalls going forward without significantly increasing homeowner taxes as they have in the past two years?
(1) Ehrman Road Property: SVSD paid $5 million in 2004 for the Ehrman Road property. Solution: Either find a revenue stream (i.e. mineral lease rights) for this property or sell it.
(2) PSERS $7+ million projected shortfall: This shortfall increases approximately $2 million over the next four years. Solution: Scrub the current employee staffing and eliminate positions which are not mission essential.
(3) Revenue Generators: Besides dealing with the Ehrman Road property, look at methods and procedures to lower the current reserve contingency funding, refinancing the long-term debt when rates are financially appealing (I understand this in an ongoing initiative) and explore methods of mitigating the debilitating effects of delinquent property taxes.
(4) Professional and Technical Services: In the 2011-2012 budget $2.8 million was budgeted for these services. In 2012-2013, this was increased to $3.05 million; an increase of $223 K. Solution: Review all budgeted expenses (exceptions being in the area of required costs which benefit special needs students) in all areas and if not justified/affordable then eliminate.
(5) Future Salary and Benefits Negotiations: In most every major city across American, municipalities are experiencing difficulty in negotiating with the unionized work force. As such, we must find common ground in providing adequate and reasonable funding for our school employees while not jeopardizing homeownership for all citizens who support SVSD through real estate taxation. Do you believe there is room for both sides to have a detente on salaries and generous benefits? I am confident we can find common ground!
And lastly, (6) do not vote to give away the proverbial farm the next time businesses like Westinghouse move to our area as this misstep created a 15 year tax forgiveness collectively worth about $1.5 million per annum. And who knows, at the end of this 15-year agreement Westinghouse (70 percent owned by Toshiba) may just relocate when another municipality or country offers it more lucrative tax benefits!
Giving our kids a great education should not result in an undue tax burden for our homeowners. As such, SVSD school board members and professional staff must use best efforts to not unnecessarily increase real estate taxes on the backs of homeowners who already feel that a 10-percent tax increase over the past two years is painful enough.
Lastly, and most importantly, we as taxpayers cannot sit idly by and allow the school tax increases to go unchecked. At the June 25, 2012 SVSD board meeting, only one other homeowner spoke against this impending tax increase and only a handful of homeowners were present.
This apathy does not provide the requisite signal to the SVSD board members that we take this taxing issue seriously. So next time, become involved in the process or don't complain when the 2013-2014 SVSD budget takes another serious bite out of your financial posterior.