Board plans tax hike

By on May 20, 2015

 

School will OK final budget in June

EPHSThe Ephrata Area School Board is considering a proposed budget for the 2015-2016 school year that includes a .45 of a mill tax increase.

If approved at the June 15 school board meeting, it would be the first rate hike in two years.

The average homeowner in the district — with a property assessed at $138,927 — would see a real estate tax increase of $62.52 next year.

The proposed tax hike would increase the millage rate to 20.05 mills from 19.6 mills.

Ephrata’s last increase was a .19 of a mill hike in 2013-14.

Ephrata School officials said the tax increase reflects the district’s challenge to keep up with escalating teacher pension hikes, which leaps $1.37 million next year.

Board president Timothy W. Stayer said the challenge leaves few options since “no matter what we do, we aren’t going to be able to keep up with those (pension) increases.”

The new budget proposes $61.459 million in expenditures and $61,007 in revenues, leaving a shortfall of about $452,00.

“The Board has carefully and thoughtfully evaluated and considered our annual budget and the need for raising taxes,” Stayer said. “First and foremost, the budget approved is a preliminary budget. We will continue to evaluate and consider our options and any new information as it becomes available.”

Stayer said there is great uncertainty as to the state budget and what levels of funding will be coming from Harrisburg and the board doesn’t anticipate any state reform to assist with the rising costs of PSERS.

Over the past five years, we’ve had two years with a zero tax increase and three years with increases below the Act 1 limit.

“As we consider all factors and understand our ongoing obligations and expenses, at this point in time, raising taxes is the responsible thing to do for our students and community,” Stayer said.

Those numbers are subject and the millage increase could drop when committee meetings next month review and new data received from the state could impact the numbers.

Superintendent Dr. Brian Troop noted, “The significant increases in fixed costs from the state place the District in a position where expenses outpace revenue even with an increase in tax. Therefore, I believe a decision to raise taxes this year is a prudent one.”

Response to the tax hike was relatively mild, though residents only learned about it early Wednesday morning on Facebook.

“How about instead of raising taxes, we raise accountability for each dollar spent in schools?” suggested Meagan Lee Good.

But Wayne Merkel responded that education is “not a free ride.”

“Teachers need to match or pay more into their fund to cover the rise in retirement new teachers in pay for old teachers out and round and round it goes,” Merkel noted.

Stan Beres Jr. noted the problems with the escalating pension costs to tax-payers.

“Yes, our company did away with our pensions years ago and now retirement is mostly employee funded with pre tax dollars,” Beres noted. “Teachers should have to do the same.”

Rachel Stott Sauder echoed that thought: “(I) agree with Stan, no more tax payer funded pensions!”

The board had been able to hold the line on taxes (last year) due in part to increases to the tax base resulting from increased commercial properties and the opportunity to refinance debt which put the district in a fortunate position.

In fact, the district last had its highest increase in assessed value, which was mainly due to the new Giant shopping center and the tax forgiveness of the Keystone Opportunity Zone ending.

The proposed final budget will be available for review in the District Office at 803 Oak Boulevard.

Patrick Burns is a staff writer and social media editor for The Ephrata Review. He welcomes your questions and comments and can be reached at pburns.eph@lnpnews.com or at 721-4455.

2 Comments

  1. Robert Landis

    May 20, 2015 at 10:14 am

    Can everyone agree that NOW is the time to change from a pension system to a 401K system for all government workers ( including school workers). Why is that so hard for our legislators to do? We also , after accomplishing that change, need to do a revenue shifting, from property tax funding of schools to funding by income tax and sales tax (as is supported by many legislators in both parties in Senate bill 76 and House bill 76). a person who pays $3600 per year for property tax is paying $300 per month to live in their own house! Young people who have a $800 per month mortgage have to pay $1100 per month, with the property tax addition. The elimination of property tax is needed , not a reduced rate ,as it will be back to where we are now in a few years if it is just a reduced rate now.

    • Robert Wasneuski

      May 27, 2015 at 12:02 pm

      Cannot agree with you more.You are 100% on the mark.We are on the verge of potential large scale community bankruptcies & residents losing their homes if this unfunded fiscal practice continues.I am not only concerned with our legislators indifference but also the continued irresponsible spending & support for its continuance by our school boards & community leaders.You & I would never handle our personal & family matters in this fashion & yet those we entrust our monies to think they know best.Sure they do.It’s our money not theirs as they are part of this unfunded system.We must somehow eliminate the apathy that appears with the voting & taxpayer populace.They need more news media support & knowledge of the financial meltdown we are heading for without reform.Mr Landis thank you for your stance on this community issue & you have my support.We the people must stop this insanity.

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