UNION TWP. — The Northwest Area School Board voted 5-3 Monday for a $18.7 million 2014-15 budget that raises property taxes 6.02 percent and still projects a deficit of $523,929.
The budget includes a July 1 fund balance of $809,698.
Directors Gerald Conger, Alton Farver and Ralph Killian opposed the plan, while affirmative votes came from Albert Gordon, Michael Kreidler, Peter Lanza, attorney Mark Lehnowsky and board Chairman Randy Tomasacci.
The new tax rate was set at 9.871 mills. The millage in 2013-14 was 9.4173. A mill is $1 in tax for every $1,000 in assessed valuation.
A major issue for the board is what state subsidy the district will receive the next school year. Al Melone, business consultant, estimated it will be $11,385,423, which is about 50 percent of the amount of revenue from all sources. Local taxes are projected to yield $6,406.640, while federal contribution is set at $424,907.
Total revenue is $18,216,970, but expenses are anticipated at $18,740,899.
Before the vote, Lehnowsky asked Melone about financial projections for 2015-16. Melone responded, “That’s a big problem if the state subsidy doesn’t increase.”
Melone also discussed the aspect of unfunded, or under funded, special education programs that the district could be confronted with at the start of the term.
“Three years ago we said we were going to be in trouble. As you can see now, we weren’t kidding,” Tomasacci said.
Melone said the board has imposed sending cuts in an effort to restrain taxation, including a staff reduction that resulted in the furlough of four teachers and the termination of two others. Melone said this action resulted in cost reductions, including salary, health care and pension benefits, of between $280,000 and $290,000.
Tomasacci, when asked, lamented that if the state enacts further cuts in its 2014-15 budget, the possibility also exists that additional furloughs could be forthcoming this summer.
“It all depends on the state,” he said. “If they make more cuts, then we’ll have to cut.”
Personnel services and benefits are listed at $11.8 million for the 2014-15 term.
Along with real estate taxes, the board reimposed two $5 per capita taxes; a $10 occupational assessment tax under Act 511 for all municipalities except Huntington Township, where the rate is $5. The board also sustained a half percent share of a one percent earned income tax.
During the discussion, director Lanza repeated a proposal he made earlier in the budget process that the EIT tax be increased to 1.5 percent. “It’s a fairer way rather than putting all the burden on property owners,” he said.
Farver said his vote reflects “a concern for the taxpayers,” and an accompanying disdain for the “bullying tactics of the PSEA (Pennsylvania State Education Association, or teachers union).”
Conger said he remains committed to a stance that cutting teachers results in a reduction in programs and opens the way for more students to look at cyber school.
“Cyber school expenses are hitting us hard,” Conger said.