North Allegheny debating over taxes

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Property taxes have not been raised for two years in the North Allegheny School District and some board members are concerned that they are putting the district at risk.

Tom Schwartzmier said the budget was “not prudent considering what we have coming down the line.”

“We're really digging ourselves into a hole, and I have reservations about that,” he said.

The $139,539,098 budget keeps the tax rate at 17.4039 mills. Administrators had recommended that the board raise the tax rate for technology improvements, to put money aside for future pension costs, and to pay for major renovations to three buildings.

“I’m very concerned that this budget doesn’t position us with the ability to implement any strategic initiatives,” including technology innovations, said board member Joseph Greenberg.

Mr. Schwartzmier said he was surprised when a majority of the board told the administration to rework the budget without a tax increase just before the May meeting.

“With all the costs that we can't control, I didn't expect a budget proposal that did not include a tax increase,” he said. “Typically, we always had minor adjustments but we don't usually have large philosophical discussion in the 11th hour.”

At their June 19 work session, board members asked the administration to give them some budget scenarios for the next three years.

One of those scenarios showed no tax increase, while another showed no increases this year and next year, while taking the maximum increase allowed by law in the third year. The third scenario showed taking the maximum increase each year.

“Under all of these scenarios, at some point we are running a deficit of at least $4.5 million in any given year,” Mr. Greenberg said. “We have done ‘‍slash and burn’ over the last five years just to balance the budget. In the last year or two, we cut too close to the bone and got pushback from the community.”

Board member Tara Fisher said that the district raised taxes in 2010, 2011 and 2012. And many residents saw their taxes increase in 2013 because of the reassessment. “If we increased this year, some households would be looking at a fifth consecutive tax increase,” she said.

Mrs. Fisher and Kevin Mahler said the district needs to think differently on budgeting. Mr. Mahler suggested having a budget committee composed of administrators, board members and residents.

“‘‍Crowdsourcing’ is a big thing these days,” he said. “Two heads are better than one sometimes. We do well but we can do better and that is what I will encourage us to do starting after today.”

Board members Libby Blackburn, Ralph Pagone, Scott Russell and President Chris Jacobs joined Mrs. Fisher and Mr. Mahler in voting for the budget. Maureen Grosheider joined Mr. Greenberg and Mr. Schwartzmier in opposing it.

Instead of raising millage, the board will float a bond issue for the renovations to Bradford Woods Elementary and Marshall elementary and middle schools.

A bond is “traditionally how the district has approached large expenditures and renovations,” Mrs. Fisher said. “It distributes the burden in a more equitable manner for taxpayers.”

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


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