Steel Valley school board lowers property taxes

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Steel Valley school board on Friday night passed a $31.6 million final budget for the 2013-14 school year that will lower school real estate taxes by 2.85 mills.

State law prohibits school districts from reaping a "windfall" from property reassessments. Superintendent Ed Wehrer said since the law requires school districts to be "revenue neutral" and a number of properties increased in assessed value during the recent county-wide reassessment, mostly commercial properties in The Waterfront, the district had to lower taxes.

According to new interim Business Manager Sheldon Berk, the average assessed value of a home in the district is $68,900.

During the 2012-13 school year, a family living in a home of average assessed value in the Steel Valley school district paid school real estate taxes of $1,665. According to Mr. Berk, that same family would pay $1,468 in school real estate taxes during the 2013-14 school year, a savings of $197.

One mill in the district raises $533,600.

In a summary written in response to questions, Mr. Berk said the three biggest areas of increased expenditures in the budget in the coming year are in real estate tax refunds, a $2 million capital funds transfer and a $200,000 transfer to the budgetary reserve.

Money set aside for real estate tax refunds was increased from $500,000 to $1 million to provide money for refunds for taxpayers who might win reassessment appeals this fiscal year.

Mr. Wehrer said $2 million was transferred from the district's general fund to its capital fund. Mr. Berk said $1 million of that will be used to pay for a new roof for the high school, and the other $1 million will be used to pay for unforeseen expenses.

Two other areas of increase in the budget were in health insurance costs, which went up eight percent, and in payments to the Pennsylvania School Employees Retirement System pensions for teachers, Mr. Berk said.

Mr. Wehrer said school districts were traditionally required to fund 12 percent of those pensions, with the state reimbursing them for about half of that. Eventually, the districts could be expected to pay 26 percent of pension contributions, he said.

The business manager said one unexpected decrease in the 2013-14 budget will be in tuition paid out for Steel Valley students attending charter schools.

During the 2012-13 school year, 140 non-special education students and about 35 special education students from the Steel Valley District attended charter schools at a cost to the district of $3.247 million, Mr. Berk said.

In the coming school year, not as many pupils chose to attend charter schools as former business manager Mark Cherpak expected, Mr. Berk said, and the cost to send students to charter schools will be $2.947 million.

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