News Column

Apollo-Ridge plans to raise real-estate taxes by state maximum

May 28, 2014

By Braden Ashe, The Valley News-Dispatch, Tarentum, Pa.



May 28--The Apollo-Ridge School District's 2014-15 preliminary budget calls for a 3.1 percent real estate tax hike.

The proposed tax increase actually would be nearly 3.5 percent for the district's Armstrong County residents, roughly 80 percent of the Apollo-Ridge population.

The board on Tuesday unanimously approved a$22.9 million preliminary spending plan that represents a 5.6 percent increase from the 2013-14 projected expenses of $21.7 million.

Accounting for the majority of the additional expenses, according to board President Greg Primm, are rising costs related to health insurance and retirement rates. District officials expect to spend about $485,000 more on retirement rates, he said, while the cost of health insurance is projected to jump 13 percent.

The 3.1 percent overall tax hike, which is the maximum increase Apollo-Ridge was allowed by the state, will yield about $230,000 in additional revenue.

It will bump the tax rate in the district's Armstrong County communities by 2.1 mills to 62.9 mills. The tax rate in Young Township, the district's only Indiana County community, will jump 3.4 mills, or about 2 percent, to 171.1 mills.

The district assesses different millage rates due to the state formula designed to equalize the taxes in districts that cover more than one county.

Even with the proposed tax hike, which would be the district's first in three years, Apollo-Ridge finds itself with a $1.5 million shortfall for the 2014-15 school year. The board will tap into its reserve funds, which contain about $3.3 million, to make up the difference, according to Primm.

"Obviously, we don't like to raise taxes," he said, "and we haven't done that in four of the past five years here. But sometimes there are obligations that we're required to meet that are beyond our control."

Despite the 2014-15 deficit, district officials are not cutting any services or programs for next school year, according to Superintendent Matt Curci.

"Over the past two to three years, we made some reductions in staff and we trimmed wherever we could," Curci said. "Now we're trying to maintain that level."

Helping to alleviate the deficit, according to Primm, are 10-cent price increases for student lunches. The new prices will be set at $2.35 for elementary school students and $2.60 for secondary students.

District officials said they're hoping for statewide reform for special education funding, cyber-school funding and employee pensions to reverse some of the trends that have led to the proposed tax hike.

Primm said any projections into the 2015-16 school year would be premature. The district will have about $1.8 million to work with in its reserve funds heading into that school year.

The preliminary 2014-15 budget was approved in a 5-0 vote. Board members Forrest Schultz, Dominick Duso and Jim Ferguson were absent; board member Dan Obriot was out of the conference room when the vote occurred.

The budget proposal will be available for public comment and review beginning Wednesday on the district's website, www.apolloridge.com, or upon request at the high school's central office.

The board will finalize the spending plan in June.

Braden Ashe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4673 or bashe@tribweb.com.

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(c)2014 The Valley News-Dispatch (Tarentum, Pa.)

Visit The Valley News-Dispatch (Tarentum, Pa.) at www.triblive.com

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Source: Valley News-Dispatch (Tarentum, PA)


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