HAZLE TWP. — The Hazleton Area School Board on Thursday voted 6-3 to adopt a 2014-15 budget that will raise real estate taxes in two counties, reduce them in a third county, draw down $7.4 million from the district’s fund balance, and maintain all student services.
The budget requires raising the Luzerne County tax rate to the Act 1 index, resulting in a 2.9 percent tax increase in the county. Luzerne County’s millage will increase from 9.195 to 9.542, Carbon County’s millage will increase from 27.778 to 28.337, and Schuylkill County’s millage will decrease from 30.573 to 30.125.
Tax equalization regulations dictate that a tax increase in one county does not necessarily mean a tax increase in the other counties.
Because of properties coming off Keystone Opportunity Zone tax abatement status, Schuylkill County tax millage would have been reduced no matter which budget options the board chose.
School Board President Robert Wallace said after the meeting that a board majority felt the budget option was fairest of four presented to the board for consideration, given that the district will have opened three new schools between this past school year and the coming school year — the magnet school in Butler Township, a third- through sixth- grade school at Maple Manor, and an early learning center in the former ninth-grade center next to the high school.
The board’s major goal in opening new buildings was to reduce class size, and in doing so will be hiring 25 new teachers, 24 aides, nine English as a Second Language teachers, 14 to 27 ESL aides, four maintenance workers, two guidance counselors, two security guards, a secretary, a nurse, a principal and an assistant principal, Wallace said.
“When you look at all that, we didn’t do too bad,” Wallace said. “I don’t think you want to cut our surplus any more, and we didn’t want to cut services to the kids. Everything hit us in one year. After this year, things should settle down a little.”
The district’s other possible options included either raising Luzerne County’s taxes by a smaller percentage, keeping Carbon County’s the same and reducing Schuylkill County’s by a lesser amount while cutting all new ESL positions and 14 aides; drawing a lesser amount from the fund balance keeping all current budgeted expenses; or drawing an even lesser amount from the fund balance and cutting all new ESL positions, support staff and 10 regular.