Though they have been presented with a balanced budget that includes a zero-mill increase for 2014-15, members of Crawford Central School Board are considering a property tax hike for the upcoming fiscal year in an attempt to forestall future budget imbalances.
Like the leaders of all of Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts, Crawford Central’s board has until June 30 to have a balanced 2014-15 budget in place. During their May 19 monthly meeting, board members are expected to give the go-ahead to a preliminary budget showing a 1.5-mill increase, the maximum allowed without seeking voter approval during the May primary election.
As presented during the district’s monthly work session Monday night, revenues equal expenditures with a zero-mill increase in property taxes. However, with Pennsylvania Department of Education limiting the district to an increase of approximately 2 percent for the 2014-15 fiscal year without a referendum question on the ballot seeking voter approval during the upcoming primary election, Crawford Central property owners may be looking at a maximum increase of 1.5 mills, which would boost the current 50.81 mill tax rate to 52.31 mills.
With one mill equaling $1 for every $1,000 in a property’s assessed value, that means an owner of a residence with the district’s median assessed value of $29,000 may be facing a maximum increase of $43.50, boosting the property’s 2014-15 school property tax bill from the current $1,473.49 to $1,516.99. With the district collecting approximately $440,000 for every mill in school property tax, the maximum 1.5 mill increase would bring in approximately $630,000 in additional revenues.
According to a five-year budget projection by Business Manager Guy O’Neil indicating that by the 2018-19 fiscal year, which begins June 30, 2018, projected increases in expenditures would have exceeded projected increases in revenues by a total of slightly over $4 million spread over the five-year period. However, the district is going to need all the funding it can find. With one mill in property taxes equaling $440,000 in revenue, it will take almost 10 mills in additional property tax collections during that five-year period to keep things in balance.
“We presently have a balanced budget with a zero-mill property tax increase,” Superintendent Charlie Heller told the board. “If we don’t raise taxes to the index (1.5 mills maximum), we’re going to be in trouble in the future. In order to make ends meet and not cut educational offerings — and even close a building — we need a tax increase now. Education is important. It is an investment.
“I don’t want to be sitting here down the road saying, ‘We should have increased taxes when we had a chance.’”
“If you want a tax increase on an already-poor district, good luck,” said board member Glenn Tuttle. “Is there any way to cut incidentals?”
“We’ve already done that.” Heller replied.
During an informal poll, all eight members present indicated that they would support a preliminary budget including a 1.5 mill tax increase. However, support for the same increase when the final budget is passed in June was less solid.
Frank Schreck said he would vote “no” in June because he objects to the estimated $1.2 million the district is required to pay in tuition for district residents attending cyber charter schools. “When you ask me to vote a tax increase when it’s going to something that has nothing to do with education, I’m not going to do it.”
“Salaries, benefits and pensions have nothing to do with education,” Tuttle observed, citing the primary cost increases shown in O’Neil’s projections. Tuttle said he would support an increase but not as large as 1.5 mills.
Board members John Amato and Melissa Burnett and Vice President Jan Feleppa said they would support the increase as long as they’re convinced all possible cuts have been made. “Education is important, but it does cost money,” Feleppa said.
VanTuil said she might not vote for an increase for the full index amount because she doesn’t believe the district can continue to raise taxes to the maximum every year for the next five years.
Board members Carol Jones and Jeff Deardorff said they both planned to support the 1.5 mill increase in June. Board member Jon DeArment was absent.
What to watch for next
Crawford Central School Board’s next meeting is scheduled for Monday at 5:30 p.m. in the district’s instructional support center in Vernon Township.
Mary Spicer can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.