The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

May 5, 2013

10 area districts exceed tax limit

Justin Dennis
jdennis@tribdem.com

— The State Department of Education has released a list of schools that have adopted preliminary budgets that increase their tax rates above an alloted index defined by the Taxpayer Relief Act of 2006.

Locally, 10 schools were reported as going over their index.

Some were able to apply for four different referendum exceptions through the department. Those exceptions cover school construction debt accrued prior to the date of the law, school construction debt not previously approved by voters, special education expenditures and pension contributions.

The index is derived from the relative wealth of the district, tacked onto a base index that measures average weekly wages from year to year. More state funds go to the needy districts, rather than districts with steep millage.

School districts that couldn’t qualify for exceptions had a choice to make: Re-work their budgets in time for the June 30 final budget deadline, or submit a referendum by April 1 for the May primary ballots and ask taxpayers to shell out a little more – or, in some cases, a lot more.

According to the Cambria County Elections Office, no referendums were submitted for consideration in the May 21 election. More likely than not, according to Tim Eller, spokesman for the State Department of Education, schools will be revisiting their budgets. No one likes tax increases, and ballot referendums are, historically, largely failures, Eller said.

Northern Cambria School District had the largest overage in the area, at a rounded 10.8 mills.

Only about 2 of those mills were excepted for $103,388 worth of pension obligations. Representatives from the district’s business office said, however, the results of the report were moot: The Northern Cambria school board voted at a March 19 meeting that taxes would not increase.

The second-largest overage is at United School District, with 9.2 mills, 7.4 of which were excepted for retirement contributions and special education costs.

Those special education costs are up from the last school year, according to school administrators. Adding to those numbers is construction debt for the elementary school that came in just shy of the moratorium on state PlanCon reimbursement, meaning money they expected to have vanished, and with poor timing.

Although no final decision has been made on behalf of the school board, members currently are reviewing cost-cutting options that could keep tax rates from going up.

On the other side of the coin, Special Session Act 1 of 2006 will be bringing hundreds of thousands in property tax reductions in many local school districts for the 2013-2014 fiscal year – a total of about $611 million across the state.

In the Northern Cambria School District specifically, each of the 2,371 approved homesteads and farmsteads will be getting roughly $132 knocked off their rates. In United, that number is an estimated $189 for the 2,357 approved households.

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