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Seneca Valley Releases Proposed Preliminary Budget to Public, Mull Options for Closing $2.8 Million Shortfall

Officials say a clearer picture of the numbers will emerge once the governor approves a state budget.

Seneca Valley released a proposed preliminary budget with a $2.8 million shortfall to the public Monday evening, but officials warn the numbers could change quite few times before the district is required to adopt a final budget in the spring.

District business manager Lynn Burtner said the preliminary numbers show expenditures at about $102 million and revenue at $99 million in the 2013-14 school year if Seneca Valley updates its current plan and rolls it into the coming school year only.

The numbers do not take into account changes in state funding the district may receive once Gov. Tom Corbett unveils his state budget, which he is expected to do in February.

At Monday’s meeting, Burtner presented three budget scenarios for school board members to examine.

The first showed a budget with no increase in real estate taxes, the second was if the district raised taxes by 2.2 mills, which is the 2 percent inflationary index Seneca Valley is allowed by the state, and the third scenario showed what would happen if the district raised taxes by 5.5 mills, which is the inflationary index, plus an additional 3.3 mills.

Burtner said the district could raise the tax rate beyond 2.2 mill limit set for it by applying to the state for special exceptions under Act. 1.

Also known at the Taxpayer Relief Act, Act 1 permits district to increase property taxes above the inflationary index.

Burtner noted she included the scenario with the 5.5 mill increase because that’s the amount it would take to balance the numbers with no budget cuts.

The district is not required to adopt a final budget until June. Until then, officials said the budget numbers are very preliminary—and flexible. 

Superintendent Dr. Tracy Vitale said the district would have a firmer grasp on the numbers once the governor releases his budget, including the amount of funding the Seneca Valley could receive from the state.

Other unknowns she named include the amount of money the district could receive in federal funding, what the state’s contribution to the Public School Employees Retirement System will be and how staffing changes, including retirements, could affect Seneca Valley.

“There are many, many unknowns at this point in the process,” she said.

She strongly recommended the district apply for the exceptions under Act 1. She pointed out that while the exceptions allow officials to raise taxes beyond the 2.2 mill index, it does not mean they have to do so.

“If we lock ourselves in so early, we do tie our hands on decisions," Vitale said. “You don’t have to use the exceptions once you apply for those.”

By releasing the proposed preliminary budget to the public Monday, the board indicated it would chose to apply for the exceptions—and not lock in the 2.2 mill index set for it by the state.

Board member Jason Wehrle added he doesn’t see any harm in applying for the exceptions and choosing not to apply them later.

“There absolutely no good reason in my mind why we would want to hamstring ourselves without knowing all the information,” he said. “Let’s apply for them and hope we don’t need to use them.”

The board is expected to adopt the proposed preliminary budget at its next meeting at 8 p.m. Feb. 11 at the intermediate high school. The tentative plan then will be submitted to the state Board of Education for review.

Officials are not expected to vote on a final budget until June 17. Burtner said the proposed preliminary budget also would be available online on the district’s website.

Thoughts on the budget? Tell us in the comment section below.

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Boyerwedum May 07, 2013 at 10:06 PM
Bottom line is that we are going to see another tax increase. What's not mentioned is that last night Eric Gordon (candidate for Cranberry Twp. Sprvsr.) stated he wants to raise the tax increase even higher. He feels not enough is going into the contingency fund and that taxpayers can dig deeper. At least Jim Nickel expressed the opposite and felt too much was being directed into that fund.

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