In a colorful meeting last Thursday, the Upper Perkiomen School Board voted in favor of a 0 mill tax increase which will raise taxes 7.51 percent for 2012-13.
Next year’s budget of $51,009,351 was slightly reduced from the preliminary budget due to savings from staff retirements and health care cost reductions, among others. It requires use of more than $2.6 million of budgetary reserve.
That figure is more than half a million higher than the proposed use of budgetary reserve under the preliminary budget which called for a 2 mill increase, equaling a 9.66 percent tax hike.
During a public comment period, Upper Perkiomen Education Association President Bob LaSalle, a resident of Hereford, told the board he believed the budget should be passed with the millage increase.
“Sometimes we have to sacrifice so our kids can have better,” he said, speaking of a humble upbringing. “I want my child to have better than I had… Some things are starting to go away…Let’s preserve the staff and provide us a little cushion.”
Upper Hanover resident Margaret Oertlip said she couldn’t disagree more.
“I can afford cutting out going to dinner once a month but how much more do you think this small community can afford with no raises and food and gas keeps going up?”
“In these times we have to keep in mind whose paying the bill,” echoed East Greenville Mayor Ryan Sloyer.
When it came time for board discussion on the budget, Director Rob Pepe said it was no secret he was opposed to an additional 2 percent increase.
“I have talked to countless people and I have yet to find one who will attest that their property value has gone up,” he said of the increase in property assessed value according to the State Tax Equalization Board (STEB). The STEB ratio is used to calculate taxes in the commonwealth.
“There is something wrong in Harrisburg with those numbers. That is not a secret.”
Pepe went on to say he believes the definition of taxation is to impose them on the public.
“Does anyone here have to wear a bulletproof vest to go to work? That’s what you have to do when you evict people from their houses,” he said, speaking of his role as an armed constable for Upper Hanover Township. “I think property taxation is theft. It is always done by force.”
Pepe went on to say the district could afford less of a tax increase as the reserve used to balance the budget for the past three years has not been utilized in its entirety. In 2009-10 and 2010-11, the district used none of it, he said. For this year, they expect to use about half of what was budgeted.
Business Administrator Sandy Kassel replied by saying bond issues were refinanced at a huge savings and other one-time cost-cutters during those years could not be duplicated in the future. Once you use the reserve, it will not be replaced, she noted.
Director Raeann Hofkin said she, too, thought expenses were padded.
An ensuing vote for a 2 mill tax increase was voted down 8-1.
Pepe amended the motion to state he wanted a budget with no tax increases for Montgomery or Berks residents. He said there would be zero cuts to instruction and extracurricular activities, but his amendment would freeze discretionary spending in several areas as well as get rid of $50,000 which was to be set aside for a technology fund for the district.
Under Pepe’s budget, which he said he had the numbers for, the millage would be reduced to negative numbers in order to achieve no tax increase as a two-county district.
That, in turn, would restrict the amount the district could raise taxes for several years under state law.
Some of the board members expressed both confusion and concern about what was proposed.
“I don’t think you know what this means, I really don’t,” said Superintendent Dr. Beth Yonson.
“We never discussed this. We never looked at the financial ramifications,” said Board President Harry Quinque. “I don’t have it in front of me, the numbers, and that scares me.”
“I hear what you’re saying but it’s totally irresponsible to the kids and the community to pass this budget,” Director Bill Scott said.
Director Jennifer Allebach agreed, calling Pepe’s motion an “eleventh hour pontification” and “a lot of empty words.”
“For this board at the eleventh hour to make this decision will doom this educational system. It’s totally irresponsible,” she said.
A vote on Pepe’s motion, which failed, elicited a sigh of relief from many in the crowd and some at the board’s and administrators’ table.
Ultimately, a zero mill increase passed 6-3, with Hofkin, Pepe and Director Margie Gehlhaus voting against the measure.
The new millage rate will be 21.9521. The homestead/farmstead exception will be $189.59 for next year. A copy of the budget can be viewed at www.upsd.org.
In other business Thursday, the board discussed a letter to the editor in the Town and Country written by State Sen. Bob Mensch stating Pennsylvania’s school funding has gone up, not decreased, over the past several years.
Director Bill Scott said he wanted the public to know why that funding has gone up.
“This is not factual information,” he said. “The subsidy went up for one reason and one reason only – the pension [the state is responsible to pay an aid ratio of approximately 50 percent for retirement costs]. For him to say it’s increasing is true, but he’s failing to say the money to the classrooms is going down…It he’d talk to me, he stopped taking my phone calls, I’d tell him it’s a bunch of crap.”
Scott and Upper Hanover resident Tom McCabe were later involved in a lively debate about a motion the board later approved to have the district serve as the food service arm of the Western Montgomery Technology and Career Center. Scott said the move wouldn’t cost the district money as they would be paid an administration fee and it would save the school $60,000, some of which would benefit Upper Perk.