School board says it wants option to raise taxes higher than state index
While Upper Perkiomen's school board has only voted to raise taxes higher than the state's normal allowance once in the past decade, it agreed last Thursday to file for an exception which would allow it to do so in 2015.
The board voted, 6-3, to go for an exception to the Act 1 index, which would permit the district to raise taxes above 2.3 percent, Upper Perkiomen's adjusted rate, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE). Directors Raeann Hofkin, Margie Gehlhaus and Cathy Fenley voted against it.
The PDE calculates a maximum tax increase for each school district based on how much wages increased on average throughout the state in the past year, as well as a federal employment cost index for elementary and secondary schools.
Exceptions for costs due to construction debt and retirement and special education costs, once approved by PDE, can allow for a higher tax rate.
While Upper Perkiomen officials said last week they don't have any reason to definitely say they will raise taxes more than 2.3 percent, they wanted the option to do so for a number of reasons.
The board reviewed the preliminary budget, now available for public inspection on the district website, of $56,934,299. That's a 6.41 percent increase over last year's budget.
Business Administrator Sandy Kassel, who referred to the budget as "very preliminary" but "lean" said while the district doesn't have any figures stating how much funding they will get from the state or the federal governments, and also has a staff agreement yet to settle, the district is facing some fixed expenses that will take significant funding.
An additional $740,000 is slated to go towards bond payments, which the district saved on last year because they refinanced in 2013-14. Retirement costs to the district from the state, as well as Social Security increases and an increase to fund the district's share of the Western Montgomery Career and Technology Center will are responsible for increased expenses.
Superintendent Dr. Alexis McGloin, who assumed her role Jan. 20, said a 2.3 percent tax increase would still require $3.9 million of the district's fund balance to balance the budget.
Officials are looking into a 3.83 percent increase, according to budget numbers.
Technology monies are also required for necessary projects, officials said. McGloin suggested the district use $240,000 from the fund balance for those improvements.
"My concerns are the fixed increases," McGloin said. "My recommendation is to take the exception."
"I'd like to leave the door open to see where our budget ends up," Kassel said. "You always have that option in June. If we opt out [of taking the exception] you don't have that opportunity if you need it."
Hofkin expressed her displeasure with the district calling for fund balance to be used to balance the budget. She said the district has not used those monies the last few years it budgeted them.
"I applaud the administration for that," said Director Bill Scott. "That means they are very cautious with our money."
In other news, the board voted to approve the creation of a full-time food service courier/custodial maintenance position. The duties were previously split between two part-time positions.