Mars mulling school tax hike

April 14, 2018 Cranberry Local News

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ADAMS TWP — In an effort to maintain the current level of education in the next school year, Mars School District officials on Tuesday said they will ask the school board to consider a millage increase later this spring.

During a finance meeting Tuesday, Jill Swaney, district business manager, said revenue in the tentative 2018-19 budget is expected to be $48.36 million. This would leave the district with a $1.5 million deficit, she said. She added though this is a common deficit to begin a school year, with revenue and expenses fluctuating to a break-even point, there is still a gap to be filled.

“The goal is to break even, and history will show that is generally what happens in the Mars School District,” she said.

Swaney said the board will be asked for a 2.38 mill increase, which would generate an additional $610,000. One mill is equal to $256,566, and the current millage rate for the district is 99 mills.

The district hasn’t increased the millage in 10 years, Swaney said. That’s because natural tax growth generated sufficient funding.

The proposed budget would allow for curriculum changes to continue in the district, as well as additional staff and programming for the special education program.

It also includes funding for students to attend the Junior ROTC program at Pine-Richland High School, and the expansion of the guidance program. Additionally, Swaney said an upcoming middle school construction project will benefit from the increased millage.

The board will discuss the tentative budget in May, after which it will be up for public review for 30 days.

A final budget vote is anticipated in June.

Swaney and Wes Shipley, district superintendent, said that due to a funding imbalance at the federal and state levels, taxpayers in the district are being left to foot the bill for increased costs.

Of the revenue, $34.31 million comes from local sources.

Swaney said that includes real estate and earned income taxes, and the district has benefited greatly from growth in the area.

However, because of the way property values are assessed in Butler County, the increase has not been as great as it would seem.

Homes are not reassessed, regardless of the sale price or value change, she said, adding new homes are assessed based on square footage and not market value.

State revenue accounts for $13.52 million of the budget, with minimal increases in subsidies for special education and retirement funds.

Swaney said the district will receive $3.1 million toward retirement funding but will pay about $6 million. Meanwhile, federal funding accounts for $525,000 toward the overall budget.

Shipley broke down the funding further, pointing out that real estate taxes have increased more than 20 percent in five years, while earned income is up more than 24 percent during that same period.

However, retirement costs have increased 227 percent over that time, with funding merely passing through the district.

“That’s money in, money out,” he said.

He added the district has seen an increase of 84 students over that five-year period, as well as 10 additional teachers and 17 new support staff members. Though that number is low, projections indicate an increase of as many as 500 students in a decade, and Shipley said the district must be prepared for that growth.

Still, Swaney said 70 percent of people in the district do not have a student in school, which leads to a difficult discussion when millage increases are considered.

“It’s a difficult balance that you have to take care of all taxpayers,” she said.

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