Penn-Trafford schools raise taxes

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Property owners in the Penn-Trafford School District will pay more in taxes, but the increase is not due to the district’s high school renovation project.

By a 7-1 vote last week, the school board approved a $49.7 million budget for the 2014-15 school year, calling for a 2-mill tax increase for Westmoreland County property owners. The millage rate was increased by 0.21 mills to 16.36 mills for those district residents who live in Trafford in Allegheny County.

Half of the millage increase will go toward paying the district’s state-mandated portion of employee pensions, which will rise from 16.9 to 21.4 percent of the salary of each district employee covered by the state retirement system next year. The remainder of the increase has been designated for district operating expenses.

According to district business manager Brett Lago, the increase means the average property owner will pay $60 more each year. 

“It’s not the most popular answer, but at this point there’s not many more ways to find savings,”  superintendent Matt Harris said.

In the meantime, he warned taxpayers that future tax increases may be necessary to meet the district’s pension obligations.

Director Scott Koscho was the lone board member to vote against the increase. He said he favored a 1-mill increase dedicated solely to the district’s reserve fund for pensions. Board member Dallas Leonard was absent from the meeting.

The board was adamant, however, that the increase in taxes was not due to the high school renovation project, which is set to begin and is expected to be completed by August 2016.

The district had set aside $32 million for the project. The amount did not account for the board’s wish list, which consisted of 10 items, including a skylight for the library and a high school annex.

It was announced that bids for the project had come in lower than expected, allowing the district to include eight of the additional items. The only items not included will be a new restroom at the stadium and additional stadium parking.

Project architect Hank Tkasik said the project’s total cost is now about $31.24 million. The district has secured a 17-year loan to finance the project.

Linda Metz, freelance writer: 

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