Cocalico residents may see property tax increase

By on April 3, 2019

Residents in the Cocalico School District can expect a 1.5 percent property tax increase, should school members approve a proposed preliminary budget April 15.

District officials presented their latest working draft at a meeting on April 1.

Business Manager Sherri Stull has trimmed about $1.1 million in expenses from next year’s spending plan, an effort that takes into account some staff attrition and shifts $202,304 in technology and supply spending to the current year.

In all, expenses will climb to about $64 million, up from $61.7 budgeted for the current school year. The tax increase will bring in $272,069 in new revenues, but that doesn’t plug the shortfall. Stull said total revenues are only projected to hit $56.4 million. The gap will be filled by carryover from the current budget year, which ends June 30, and general fund reserves.

Among the biggest costs increase for 2019-2020 is an increase in contributions to the state pension fund. That will drive overall instructional expenses up, even though district leaders reported several retirements should drive salary costs down as less-tenured teachers are hired. The district also eliminated one teaching position and decided not to hire a full-time instructor for English-as-a-second-language students.

“Overall, salaries and benefits are not going down because of a huge PSERS increase,” Superintendent Ella Musser cautioned. “That slice of the pie hasn’t gotten any smaller.”

Though the board had pondered increasing taxes by as much as 2.3 percent, the maximum allowed under the state’s tax cap act, several factors supported the lower rate.

Stull reported that the district received an unexpected $573,545 in transfer tax income this school year, helping to cushion the end-year balance. That helps Cocalico manage some extra expenses — such as desktop computers, athletic equipment and replacement cell phones for several administrators — now rather than during the 2019-2020 school year.

Stull cautioned that more changes are possible before the board gives the budget final approval.

“The budget is always in flux,” she said. “We start this (process) in September… We’re going to keep looking at everything until June.”

Kimberly Marselas is a correspondent for The Ephrata Review.

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