School district to re­ceive fair share ‘bill’

Bor­ough send­ing out yearly let­ters to non­prof­its ask­ing for con­tri­bu­tions in lieu of taxes

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - LOCAL NEWS - By Fran Maye fmaye@21st-cen­tu­ry­ @ken­nettpa­per on Twit­ter

In the next cou­ple of weeks, let­ters will be go­ing out to all tax-ex­empt or­ga­ni­za­tions in the bor­ough ask­ing them to pay their fair share of taxes. The “bill” they will get will re­sem­ble the amount they would pay if they were not tax-ex­empt un­der fed­eral statute.

One of those bills will be go­ing out to Ken­nett Con­sol­i­dated School District. On Mon­day night, Ken­nett Square Coun­cil­man Wayne Braffman asked Bob Nor­ris, a Ken­nett school di­rec­tor, if he is aware the bor­ough is look­ing for pay­ment.

“Yes, I am aware of it,” Nor­ris said. “But I re­mind you that what we take out of this pocket will come from that pocket. We get rev­enue from the same place as you. Frankly, I be­lieve 80 per­cent of tax dol­lars goes to the school district.”

Called pay­ment in lieu of taxes, the “bill” is strictly vol­un­tary, and tax-ex­empts are un­der no obli­ga­tion to pay it, or even a por­tion of it.

“The thought be­hind this is ev­ery­one uses pub­lic safety ser­vices, and it is good for the town, and if they want to con­trib­ute, by all means, go ahead,” said Coun­cil­man Ge­off Bosley shortly be­fore the bor­ough en­acted a res­o­lu­tion ear­lier this year. “We have ter­rific pub­lic safety in this town and ev­ery­one uses it. We put a lot of money into pub­lic safety, and peo­ple want to feel safe and well pro­tected.”

But the district has very lit­tle wig­gle room to au­tho­rize new spend­ing. In fact, pay­ing the bill would al­most cer­tainly ne­ces­si­tate a school district tax hike.

Nor­ris said that salaries and ben­e­fits take up 60 per-

cent, or $48 mil­lion, of the 2016-17 $81.9 mil­lion Ken­nett Con­sol­i­dated School District bud­get. And 20 per­cent of that $48 mil­lion, or $9 mil­lion, is de­voted specif­i­cally to pen­sion obli­ga­tions.

“Our pen­sion bill will con­tinue to be high at least for the next two or three years un­til the state catches up,” Nor­ris said.

An­other 10 per­cent of the bud­get goes to state man­dated

pro­grams. Nor­ris said school di­rec­tors only have dis­cre­tionary spend­ing of about 30 per­cent, which is ded­i­cated to pro­grams and build­ings.

The av­er­age cost to ed­u­cate one child for one year in Ken­nett is $14,000, yet the av­er­age prop­erty owner in Ken­nett pays about $5,300. “That’s a very big mar­gin that has to be made up,” Nor­ris said.

About one in ev­ery five stu­dents at Ken­nett schools gets spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion, ei­ther through health, emo­tional or be­hav­ioral is­sues, or through the ESL pro­gram.

The cost to ed­u­cate a spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion stu­dent in Ken­nett is $20,000 per year, per stu­dent, but could go as high as $100,000, Nor­ris said. The district re­cently hired a con­sul­tant to look at con­tain­ing spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion spend­ing to en­sure tax dol­lars are spent ef­fec­tively and ef­fi­ciently. The district’s en­roll­ment cur­rently is $4,200 stu­dents, with a max­i­mum ca­pac­ity of 4,500.

Bor­ough of­fi­cials re­cently put to­gether a com­pre­hen­sive list of ev­ery tax-ex­empt prop­erty in the bor­ough. The funds col­lected will go to­ward the 2017 bud­get.

The funds are sorely needed to help re­duce the bor­ough’s debt obli­ga­tion. To bal­ance the bud­get last year, the bor­ough needed to trans­fer $750,000 from the wa­ter, sewer and trash fund into the general fund. The bor­ough’s uni­formed work­ers (po­lice of­fi­cers) re­ceived a 3 per­cent wage hike, and non-uni­formed bor­ough work­ers got a 2.5 per­cent hike for 2016.

Doug Nakashima, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Ken­nett Area YMCA, said the Y is a vi­tal non­profit that has a pos­i­tive im­pact on Ken­nett Square, ad­ding that pay­ment in lieu of taxes “has no merit.”

The let­ter will be go­ing out to bor­ough churches, the Ken­nett Se­nior Cen­ter and even the Garage Com­mu­nity Youth Cen­ter.

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