Friday, April 15, 2016

Is a Pottstown School Tax Hike Pending?

What's more fun than attending three Pottstown School Board committee meetings? Having a two-hour executive session right in the middle of it all of course.

One nice thing about the Pottstown School Board scheduling the facilities, personnel and finance committee meetings all on the same night is, its all on the same night.

So last night, my Twitter followers learned about some great bids for masonry work around the district, work on replacing the flat roof on the administration building and, most importantly, a first look at the 2016-17 school budget.
Work on the administration building flat room has already begun.

Given the chaos of the state budget process in Harrisburg, which continues as I write this, Business Manager Linda Adams gave her "best guess" about where state aid will land for the budget year we're still in.

What the picture will look like for the budget year she has started to plan for is anybody's guess.

Nevertheless, something are known at this point.

The preliminary $59,583,669 proposed budget for 2016-17 calls for spending almost $2.5 million more than the $57,136,928 2015-16 budget.

And of that increase, more than half that increase -- $1.6 million to be close to exact -- is due to salary and PSERS (retirement) increases. PSERS by itself is $1 million more.

Add in the fact that Gov. Tom Wolf's proposed budget had called for a charter school tuition reimbursement of more than $700,000 which the budget finally adopted in March did not include and next year's cannot be expected to include.

Another more local cause is the continuing collapse of Pottstown's property tax base. Assessment challenges in Pottstown -- more numerous than anywhere else in Montgomery County -- will strip another $393,000 off the revenue side of the balance sheet in 2016-17, said Adams.

And while an increase of more tan $200,000 is expected in state funds for the basic education subsidy, losses in special education funding and vocational education funding for the state leave Pottstown at a $70,723 loss in the state aid column, no matter what the headlines and state officials running for reelection may tell you.

The good news is that ultimately, this preliminary budget look only sees a $155,696 shortfall.

The bad news is that number only gets reached with an infusion of nearly $1 million in new local taxes, a 1.3345 mill tax hike, or 3.4 percent, the maximum allowed by the state index.

School Board President Andrew Kefer, who is also the chair of the joint personnel and finance committee, made it pretty clear that there is little appetite on the board for a tax hike of that size.

Board member Polly Weand expressed the hope that the borough-wide LERTA tax break the borough and school district are working together to implement will help to ultimately reverse the decline in assessed property values.

Let's hope she's right.

Here are the Tweets from the evening.

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