The Parkland School Board has passed its $140 million preliminary budget, but continues to work with the administration in hopes of reducing the millage increase for the 2011-2012 school year.
Though early in the process, the budget would require the district to raise taxes beyond the state index, by 4.29 percent. The district's millage would increase 1.64 mills, from 38.27 mills to 39.91 mills.
Since the district is only allowed by law to raise taxes by 1.4 percent, the board last week also voted to give school officials permission to ask the state for exceptions to allow the higher increase.
Officials are struggling with millions in dollars of lost revenue -- from lower interest earnings, reduced property assessments and lost federal subsidies.
They say the district has lost $3 million in tax revenue in the past two years from the lower assessments, primarily on commercial and industrial properties in Upper Macungie, South Whitehall and North Whitehall townships.
John Vignone, the district's director of business administration, projects another $1 million loss in tax revenue from lowered assessments in the next school year.
In 2010, for example, 50 businesses and residences located within the district's boundaries requested, and the county granted, a lowering of their property assessments, Vignone said. That resulted in a tax loss of nearly $4,900 on the 14 properties in South Whitehall, $203,769 on 32 properties in Upper Macungie, and $1,689 on four properties in North Whitehall.
In addition, the owners of 19 more properties, mostly commercial properties in the Upper Macungie industrial parks, will go to Lehigh County Court in hopes of getting their assessments reduced. Vignone said district officials will decide whether to mount a challenge in court; cost will be a factor.
In 2009, he said, the district did get involved in several court challenges. "We were able to mitigate some of the losses," he said.
Further complicating the budget process for the 2011-2012 school year has been the many unknowns, including the amount of state funding the district will receive next school year, enrollments and retirements.
The passage of the preliminary budget was a state-mandated step in the budget process. The state Department of Education will now review any proposed tax increase and application for exceptions. The board must adopt its proposed budget by May 24, and the final budget in June.
Under the preliminary budget, the average homeowner (who has a property assessed at $70,000 and currently pays $2,679 annually) would pay $114 more a year in taxes. Officials anticipate that the tax increase will be lower by final passage in June
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