Seneca Valley Approves Proposed Budget with 4.4 Mill Tax Hike
Officials are expected to vote on a finalized budget June 25.
In a 7-1 vote, Seneca Valley School District officials on Monday approved a proposed $97.2 million budget that closes a $4.8 million dollar shortfall for the 2012-13 school year—and includes a 4.4 mill increase in real estate taxes.
School board member Jim Nickel was the lone dissenting vote. Board president Robert Hill was absent from the meeting.
While he said he supported the district expenditures, Nickel argued in favor of raising property taxes by 3.9 mills, which is .5 mills less than 4.4 mills approved by the board.
Each mill of tax yields about $500,000, meaning .5 mills would generate about $250,000.
Nickel suggested reducing the contingency fund, which is money reserved for emergency repairs or other unexpected expenses, to increase savings.
He pointed out the district has spent an average of about $450,000 per year in the last five years of the money reserved in the contingency fund. For the 2012-13 school year, $718,000 is proposed to be budgeted for the contingency fund. Last year, it was about $1 million.
Nickel said a 3.9-mill increase would fund $461,000 for the budgetary reserve. While he supports having a contingency fund, he said he only supports the average $450,000 for that line item.
“Each year, we plan for “X,” but we only use a portion of that,” he said. “At least historically on average, that’s what we’ve done.”
Board member Jason Wehrle, however, said dropping the increase to 3.9 mills would be a shortsighted move for the district.
He noted Seneca Valley likely would face another shortfall for the 2013-14 school year and beyond. In the future, the district also may no longer qualify for exceptions under the state’s Act 1, which this year gave the district permission to raise taxes by up to 5.71 mills—or 3.6 mills beyond the allowed 2-percent index originally calculated for it. If that happens, there may not be much left for the district to cut, he said.
He added the extra $250,000 generated by half a mill could be used save teaching positions and district programs.
“How many teacher jobs will that save? Does that save the football program? Does that save track and field? Does that save the art program, the music department? It will save some of those positions,” he said. “If we don’t have it, those are more people who will be on the firing line next year. That concerns me very much. We’ve already had to give up a lot.”
Seneca Valley by the Numbers
In April, officials voted to eliminate 14 positions, 11 of which were teachers. The three eliminated non-teacher positions were the assistant director of buildings and grounds, a paraprofessional for the secondary gifted program and the attendance officer.
Board members on Monday also voted to eliminate 1.5 special education positions. One position is being vacated by an employee who is retiring and will not be replaced, according to the district.
The proposed budget also increases school-related fees.
The athletic activity fee would jump from $75 to $125 dollars under the plan, with the amount not to exceed $375 per family, per year. The non-athletic performance fee would go from $25 to $50 dollars, and would not exceed $150 per family, per year. The non-athletic club fee also would increase from $25 to $35 dollars. That amount would be capped $105 per family, per year. Officials also approved a school-owned musical instrument rental fee of $100.
Cafeteria meals also would be more expensive next year. Breakfasts would go from $1.25 to $1.45, elementary lunch would go from $1.75 to $1.95 and secondary lunch would go from $2 to $2.25.
District Calls for Pension Reform
Officials have indicated next year’s budget shortfall is only the beginning. Superintendent Dr. Tracy Vitale has predicted that, even with a two-percent tax hike each year, the district’s budget shortfall will be more than $2 million for the 2013-14 school year—and continue to grow by more than $2 million in each year after that.
Many of the costs, including state-mandated pensions, cannot be reduced.
“We all know we are not truly a business,” Vitale said. “We are government—and we are dictated by government. So I want to point that out and make sure that people understand, those are regulations we don’t have control over.”
Board members hope that could change in the future.
Officials unanimously approved a resolution lobbying state legislators for pension reform. According to the resolution, Pennsylvania Public School Employees Retirement System members voted to increase the employer contribution rate for next year to 12.36 percent, a 42 percent increase over the 2011-12 rate. The employer contribution rate also is projected to increase sharply in the next four years, according to officials.
“Our budget is going to have to be $7 million more in five years just for PSERS contributions,” school board vice-president Eric Gordon estimated.
The resolution urged legislators to find another funding source for PSERS, decrease or cuts the costs and liabilities of the system and examine the adoption of a hybrid pension plan that would reduce employer costs over time.
The board also passed a resolution giving their support to House Bill 855, which permits school districts to furlough professional employees for economic reasons.
How The Proposed Tax Increase Affects You
Based on the proposed budget, business manager Lynn Burtner said taxpayers with homes that have a $100,000 market value could expect to pay an average of about $60 more in taxes per year. For residents with homes with a market value of $200,000, the amount doubles to an additional $120 per year.
School board members are expected to vote on a finalized budget June 25. In the meantime, Burtner said many things could affect the numbers, including changes to Gov. Tom Corbett’s proposed budget.
When Judi Rexford—who was one of three residents to speak during the meeting—asked how the community could help the district, school board member Jim Welsh replied she and others could contact local legislators about pension reform.
“We need to contact them and say find a better solution, number one,” he said. “Two, please make sure you continue to at least fund part of the districts for the pension.”
Vitale said the district would have additional budget information, including the average amounts residents could pay in taxes under the proposed budget, on the Seneca Valley website. To visit the site, click here.