The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

January 22, 2013

Windber keeping tax options open

David Hurst

WINDBER — Windber school officials will ask the state to give them the option to raise taxes by nearly a mill next year.

It’s a deadline-driven formal request to the Department of Education that doesn’t commit the district to anything – and was narrowly approved 5-3 regardless, with most members saying they won’t support an increase that high.

But board members also said the district would have had little leeway if they didn’t seek the request, noting they would not have been able to increase taxes more than one-quarter mill without it.

“At this point ... we need to have the option,” board member Steve Kormanik said, noting the district is still months away from a 2013-2014 spending plan. “We don’t know what our budget’s going to look like.”

Coming off of a year of painful budget cuts and a 12 percent tax hike, just under 2 mills, most board members noted another significant tax hike should be a last-resort scenario “especially with Paint Township’s situation,” board President Timothy Tokarsky said. Paint, which sends its students to Windber schools, recently approved a 6-mill hike.

Tokarsky and fellow board members Susan Layton and Barry Hostetler voted against the option to seek exceptions.  

The school used exceptions, including high retirement payment costs, to raise taxes above their index – and if sought and approved by the state this year – could allow the board to keep millage the same or raise it at any increment up to nearly 1 mill.

Superintendent Rick Huffman said the highest permitted tax increase would generate about $110,000 in additional revenue. Without exceptions, the highest Windber could raise millage, one-quarter mill, would generate $30,000, he noted.

“This doesn’t commit us to anything,” board member Joe Felix said. “It just gives us more time.”

Their budget picture may be clarified soon though.

Tokarsky noted the district and teachers union have reached a tentative agreement on a new deal.

The union’s last pact expired last year but teachers are working under a one-year extension with frozen wages, partly because of last year’s tough budget.

Union President Sharon Bonitz called the proposed deal a multiyear one but said she could not offer details until fellow teachers review it and vote Feb. 7.

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