Feb. 11--The Armstrong School Board took its first step toward raising real estate taxes for a third consecutive year on Monday night, passing a $96.8 million preliminary budget.
The spending plan's $3.5 million deficit remains, even with a millage increase of at least 1.84 mills, which is within the state's Act 1 index rate of 3 percent.
The board approved the preliminary budget 6-0, with board members Christopher Choncek, Stanley Berdell and Larry Robb absent.
The board has not passed a resolution stating it will not seek exceptions from Pennsylvania's Act 1, which limits how much a district can raise the real estate tax rate.
Armstrong School District assesses 56.64 mills of real estate tax. The increase would bring the tax rate to 58.47 mills and raise $978,712 for the district.
The tax rate could increase by almost half a mill more if the district seeks an exception to the Act 1 cap to help cover pension costs, said John Zenone, the district's business affairs director.
That would net an additional $263,000 for pension contributions, he said.
Solicitor Lee Price said the district must apply for the exception through the state's Department of Education. Although the district plans to apply for the extra millage, officials do not have to use it, he said.
The board agreed to apply for the exception after a 4-2 vote, with school board members Paul Lobby and Amy Lhote dissenting.
Lobby said he opposed the exception as taking a stand against tax increases.
"This board has raised taxes every year since 2012, and the feedback that I'm getting from taxpayers is that taxes are too high," Lobby said.
Officials are cautious to forecast increases in state and federal funding. Last year, the district received $4.8 million in federal funding, which Zenone said he hopes will at least hold steady.
Armstrong School District expects to receive a small increase in its basic education funding from the state.
Superintendent Stan Chapp said the flat-funded state budget will not help address all of the district's needs and does not take any of the burden from local taxpayers.
Gov. Tom Corbett's$71.8 billion 2014-15 budget includes $28.5 million allotment for the district. It reflects an increase of $44,829.
"When you hear the governor say there's more money being put toward education, there is, but it doesn't help the local tax effort because of the way it's been structured," Chapp said.
The board plans to pass a final budget by June 30.
Brad Pedersen is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-543-1303, ext. 1337, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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