$63.9M budget raises taxes by .55 percent
LOWERPOTTSGROVE>> The Pottsgrove School Board stopped short of adopting a budget that does not raise property taxes in the coming fiscal year, opting instead, after some sharp words, for a $63.9 million that raises taxes by .55 percent.
For a home assessed at $120,000, the district median, the budget would raise the annual tax bill by $24, said business manager David Nester.
Board member Rick Rabinowitz continued to advocate for a budget that does not raise taxes, saying a number of factors now in flux make it likely that it was the district’s only chance in recent years to provide that relief to the district’s taxpayers.
Those factors include state level changes, such as the pending release of a fair funding formula; property tax relief bills and Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget priorities, which include nearly $1 million in addition state funding for Pottsgrove.
At the local level, Rabinow-
itz said, the district has a $700,000 surplus from the previous year’s budget; $400,000 in unexpected state reimbursement money for the Ringing Rocks Elementary School project; $1.5 million of surplus in the district’s health care fund and $536,000 in savings the board earned that very same night with a partial re-funding of a 2010 bond issue.
With $3.1 million available, Rabinowitz said he did not think it would be irresponsible to use $205,000 from some of that money — which is what was required to get the budget’s tax hike to zero.
But he could not even get a second to his motion to adopt a budget that did not raise taxes.
Instead, the board voted 7-1 (board member Dee Gallion was absent) for a variation on one of the budget options Nester outlined for them at their request.
That achieved a .2 mill tax i ncrease by taking $200,000 from the district fund balance, assuming an additional $100,000 from the state and buying one of three new $80,000 school buses out of the capital reserve fund instead of the general fund.
School Board President Justin Valentine said he did not like making a decision that depends on Harrisburg and worried that a zero tax budget this year could result in the need for a higher-than-average increase the following year.
“I think most people prefer a smaller tax hike this year and next year, than nothing this year and a bigger hike the next,” he said. “Zero sounds good, but it might not be the most responsible thing to do.”
“If we achieve a zero tax hike this year, it will be immediately forgotten,” said board member Ted Coffelt. “No matter how good a thing you do this year, it will be forgotten when the next one comes. That’s human nature. Everyone hates tax increases.”
Board member Matt Alexander chided both Valentine and Rabinowitz for bringing state politics into the discussion; and then chided the rest of the board for not discussing the various cost-cutting suggestions he had made to them via e-mail.
“I don’t feel comfortable making bets with other people’s money,” said Alexander. “We were elected to drive costs down. I highlighted things we could do and get no feedback. Instead people come here and talk pretty about state politics.”
“I’m not fixated on zero percent, I’m fixated on spending our money in the most responsible way possible,” said Alexander. “It’s not the administration’s fault. They’ve done a lot of work on this and we’ve done nothing. We’ve spent a lot more time on shenanigans then on this budget.”
Valentine began to respond that one reason he did not respond to Alexander was “due to Sunshine Law considerations ....” when Alexander interrupted him and said “Justin you are such a hypocrite. Don’t showboat here at the meetings and be different the rest of the time.”
After the budget vote, board member Patr icia Grimm suggested the board participate in a Pennsylvania School Board’s workshop to try to find a path toward getting along better.
Saying there had been “lots of blow-ups this week,” Grimm added “I’m tired of issues of bullying and threats on Facebook. This could put us on the right path. We still have to get to December,” she said, when the new board will be seated.
Board member John Rossi said while he thought Grimm had a good idea, he would not participate because someone on the board is leaking its private business.
“Nothing on this board is confidential and I won’t participate with whomever it is on this board who is telling everyone our business,” Rossi said.
Grimm agreed that “the confidentiality seal has been broken” and said the PSBA program could help.
“It’s not easy to carry this negative energy wherever we go,” she said.
Rabinowitz responded that he thought it would be better to go through that process starting with the new board.
No action was taken on Grimm’s suggestion.