Only a trivial increase for taxpayers in 2013-14
In a 7-2 vote, the Upper Perkiomen School Board voted in favor of a 0 millage increase for its $52.2 million budget for next year.
The move, which was one of three options voted on by the board at last Thursday night’s meeting, means a mere .32 percent tax increase for Berks County residents and a .27 percent increase for Montgomery County residents.
For the median assessed value property owner, that amounts to $7.40 and $8.16 increases, respectively. That includes a homestead/farmstead exemption of $184.97.
The budget will utilize $3,046,258 of savings, or fund balance.
The use of that much fund balance was cautioned by Business Administrator Sandy Kassel before the vote. Kassel noted the board is faced each year with a limit on increasing real estate taxes (Act 1 index), which, if the board voted for zero, could seriously jeopardize the district’s ability to fund its programs in the future.
The board failed to approve motions for, first, a 2 percent and then a 4.4 percent tax increase, each using less of that savings.
“This is a rainy day. Taxpayers are tapped out,” said Director Raeann Hofkin of her vote, noting she still feels the budget is “padded” each year.
“We all come to this with different viewpoints,” said Director Jennifer Allebach. “I will vote to raise taxes because that’s where we’re at.”
Board Vice President Harry Quinque agreed, saying if a tax increase goes to voter referendum, he believes the public will vote against it, because they can.
The vote for a 2 mill increase, which would have used $2.4 million in fund balance and raised taxes a median $58.12 and $72.48 respectively, failed 7-2, with Quinque and Allebach providing the only ‘yes’ votes.
The vote for a 4.4 millage increase, with $1.7 million of fund balance and median tax increases of $119.99 and $150.95, respectively, also failed, with Quinque, Allebach and Director Jeff Feirick voting for the measure.
Board President Bill Scott, who cast the final vote in each motion, said he voted no on each because he believed none of the options were right for the district.
Prior to the votes, Hereford resident and Upper Perkiomen Education Association President Bob LaSalle asked the board to raise taxes in order to preserve what the district has to offer students.
“Right now I’m asking you to raise my taxes. Allow us to provide kids with more opportunities and experiences, not less. The people in this community care a great deal and will do what’s right as long as we do right by their children. I know we, the teachers, do that every day. I ask the board to do the right thing and fund this budget in a way that will help us preserve our financial stability and ensure our kids have every opportunity to succeed.”
After the vote, the public reflected on the 0 millage increase.
“Me personally, I hate to see taxes go up. In East Greenville alone there is an 11 percent poverty,” noted East Greenville Mayor Ryan Sloyer. “But this year there was a lot of talk about outsourcing and now we aren’t doing a tax increase; which I can agree with as along as that stuff stays off the table so people don’t lose their job next year. For those of you who voted for zero, I hope there is that long-term plan.”
Kim Wheeler of Green Lane said she disagreed with the board’s course of action.
“I’m disappointed. I don’t feel like I’m walking away with how we’ve been properly represented.”
“Be fair and let this budget cycle run through,” said Scott. “When we get back here next June let’s see what we’ve created. Maybe we’ve created a mess for ourselves; some of us think that’s correct, others don’t think that’s correct.”
District teachers and residents Kip Langenbach and Holly Francisco said they didn’t want to take the “wait and see” approach because it would be at the expense of their own children and students.
“The position we are in tonight has now weakened our position because we are not going to be able to raise enough revenue to keep our district afloat,” Francisco said, noting she believed every child should have access to AP classes, sports, music, and a reasonable class size.
“On what has happened this evening I am very sad,” Scott read from a statement after hearing from the public. “While I do understand the viewpoints of some of my colleagues, I believe it is short-sighted. I will tell you folks that you’re angry with us this evening, and I understand, but at the same time I ask you to sit back, count to 10 and let this board move forward with this decision. When this decision works or fails, that is the time to judge this board. Until then, I think we all up here have the right to wait for that decision to be made.”
In other district news, the board voted to appoint Jeffrey P. Fries as principal of Hereford Elementary School. Fries replaces Ted Mucellin, who is retiring. Fries has worked in Allentown School District since 2001, previously serving as a principal and a director of special projects.
“I met this gentleman this evening for the first time,” Scott said. “There is a certain ‘wow’ factor. We are very excited to have him on board.”
The board also voted to for 2 percent raises for district nurses, food service, maintenance and custodians and other support personnel.
Lunch prices were raised 25 cents at each district school and votes to spend no more than $192,000 to replace teachers’ laptops at the high school and to bid out the various options for improvements to the high school tennis courts also passed.