The Community Connection

No tax hike in $66M budget

- By Evan Brandt ebrandt@21st-centurymed­ @PottstownN­ews on Twitter

POTTSTOWN » The $66 million preliminar­y budget adopted unanimousl­y by the school board Thursday avoids a tax increase for the third straight year by using $1.6 million from reserves to close a deficit.

Board member Thomas Hylton, chairman of the finance committee, said at $16.4 million, Pottstown has “a healthy fund balance,” and said the board has “only raised taxes twice in the last seven years.”

The previous year’s budget also had called for closing its deficit with the use of about $1.9 million in reserves. But Business Manager Maureen Jampo told the board Thursday that the use of reserves will probably not be necessary to close out the 2020-21 budget.

She also said a long trend of dropping assessed property values appears to be on the wane.

Since 2015, Pottstown’s total assessed property value has dropped by $48.7 million, $30

million of which came in 2018 when Pottstown Hospital was taken off the tax rolls.

But Jampo said Pottstown had “minimal” assessed value loss in 2020 — $521,410 — and there was an increase noted in February of this year.

Another $331,000 was added to the tax rolls thanks to two successful assessment challenges, which adds another $14,000 to annual revenues she said.

She also said $350,000 was saved due, among other things, to health insurance savings and better-than-expected local tax revenues.

Another budget benefit is the $9.7 million in federal COVID-19 aid the district will receive.

That money must be spent specifical­ly on COVID-related expenses, but given the broad range of things affected by the pandemic, officials expressed confidence that the money would go “to good things,” as board member Raymond Rose put it.

Board member John Armato noted that while the federal aid is welcome, it should not be viewed as “a windfall, but to cover the damage COVID has done.”

None of that money, he said, does anything to address the fact that according to its own funding formula, Pennsylvan­ia short-changes Pottstown Schools $13 million in aid every year, meaning the district cannot afford to add advanced placement classes, or hire more guidance counselors to deal with the mental and emotional impacts a year home from school has had on students.

While it is “fortunate” for taxpayers and students alike that Pottstown’s economy seems to be on the upswing, said Armato, it is not enough to offset the shortfall in state funding.

That imbalance would be remedied under the budget proposal made in February by Gov. Tom Wolf in which he proposes routing all state school funding through the formula, rather than the 11 percent was allocated through the formula in 2020.

However, recognizin­g the political hurdles that would have to be cleared for that to happen, Jampo told the school board the preliminar­y budget she presented assumes “flat funding” from Harrisburg.

Thursday’s vote was not the final word on the budget, although at this point, having adopted a preliminar­y budget, the board cannot raise taxes for the coming school year.

The vote on the final budget is scheduled for May 20.

 ?? IMAGE FROM SCREENSHOT ?? The Pottstown School Board met online Thursday night.
IMAGE FROM SCREENSHOT The Pottstown School Board met online Thursday night.

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