North Allegheny budget lowers property taxes but not residents' tax bills

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School board President Maureen Grosheider called the North Allegheny School District's 2013-14 budget a "compromise."

The administration did not get everything that it asked for, including two more elementary guidance counselors and money to put aside for future pension costs. Board members who wanted residents' tax bills to be lowered also did not get their way.

The $131.32 million budget lowered property taxes from 20.92 mills to 17.40 mills to comply with the requirement to be revenue neutral because of the additional revenues from the Allegheny County reassessments.

With the new budget, the owner of a house that is assessed at $200,000 will pay $3,480 in school property taxes.

The budget maintains all programs, provides flexibility on elementary staffing so teachers can be added to decrease class sizes, provides security upgrades and starts upgrading infrastructure for information technology, Mrs. Grosheider said.

The largest expenditures are $66.5 million for salaries and $31.6 million for benefits. The district will transfer $5.7 million from its fund balance to the capital reserve fund for renovations to buildings.

"Those facilities don't get better on their own," said Dan Hubert, board vice president. "We have $339 million in assets; $2 million a year doesn't get it done. You just can't maintain your property."

On the revenue side, the vast majority of revenue -- $102.4 million, comes from local taxes. The projected revenue includes $2 million in gaming money.

Mr. Hubert said the budget is always a "balancing act between what we do for our students and what we do for the taxpayers. And over 14 years, I've erred toward the students."

The budget passed 6-3 with Mrs. Grosheider, Mr. Hubert, Karen Boujoukos, Christopher Jacobs, Ralph Pagone and Thomas Schwartzmier voting in favor, and Linda Bishop, Libby Blackburn and Joseph Greenberg voting against it.

Mrs. Bishop and Mrs. Blackburn wanted to see the district lower the tax rate to 16.9 mills.

Mrs. Bishop said this is the first time in her 12 years on the board that she has opposed a budget.

"Fifty percent of NA property owners have had their assessments raised by more than 25 percent. If we set our millage rate at 17.4 as proposed, 50 percent of our taxpayers are in for a very unpleasant surprise," she said.

"I think to those taxpayers our budget is going to seem to be anything but revenue neutral."

Mrs. Blackburn said that she received phone calls and emails from residents asking that the board lower taxes.

"I feel we're overtaxing people," she said.

In other action, the board approved a $353,793 contract with Allegheny Safe and Lock for security upgrades at all district buildings.

The project will include the installation of video phone systems and replacement of the door hardware at the main entrances and the installation of electric locks on the interior doors from the vestibule areas into the schools.

Also, key card systems will be installed at Bradford Woods, Hosack, Marshall, McKnight and Peebles elementary schools and the Baierl Center. Those buildings do not have key card systems.

The board also accepted a $7,500 proposal from Management Partnership Services to analyze the financial impact of outsourcing the remainder of the district's bus routes. There are 81 district-operated routes and 46 routes operated by a private contractor. Outsourcing all transportation has been suggested by residents as a way to cut costs.

education - neigh_north

Sandy Trozzo, freelance: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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