Steel Valley budget lowers tax by 2.85 mills

Property assessments go up in The Waterfront

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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 the recent property reassessments. A number of properties received higher assessed values from the reassessment, superintendent Ed Wehrer said, so property taxes had to be lowered to keep them "revenue neutral."

But the bills of some property owners could increase depending on how much their assessment increased.

Most of the properties with higher assessments are commercial properties in The Waterfront shopping area, Mr. Wehrer said.

The average assessed value of a home in the district is $68,900, said new interim business manager Sheldon Berk.

During the 2012-13 school year, the owner of such a home paid school real estate taxes of $1,665. The owner of a home with that assessment would pay $1,468 in school real estate taxes during the 2013-14 school year, a savings of $197, Mr. Berk said.

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 taxpayers who might win assessment 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 for unforeseen expenses.

Two other areas of increase in the budget were in health insurance costs, which rose 8 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 for Steel Valley students attending charter schools.

During the 2012-13 school year, 170 students, including 35 special education students from the Steel Valley attended charter schools at a cost to the district of $3.25 million, Mr. Berk said.

In the coming school year, not as many pupils have chosen 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 $2.95 million.

The school board also voted on other matters during their meetings Tuesday and Friday last week:

• The directors voted Tuesday to hire Mr. Berk as interim business manager following the departure of James Marnell, who had also served as an interim business manager for the district.

Mr. Berk, who retired from the Blackhawk School District in 2004 after being its business manager for 27 years, has been interim business manager since his retirement for Plum, Woodland Hills and Baldwin-Whitehall school districts.

He will receive $50 per hour in the position at Steel Valley, and was hired retroactive to June 10.

• Discussion on Tuesday night centered on a failure by Hruska Plumbing of Munhall, a company doing work for the district, to pay $3,800 in school real estate taxes.

School directors Mike Terrick, Donna Kiefer, Donald Bajus and Colette Youngblood voted to pay invoices owed to contractors, but not to pay district bills owed to Hruska Plumbing.

A second vote not to do business with any contractor who owes the district money also passed by a 4-3 vote, but a third vote to open all district contracts was tabled, after Director Vincent Natale suggested that only contracts of business owners who owe money to the district be reopened.

Mr. Terrick said after the meeting that if any contractors have unpaid taxes, their contracts with the district will be reopened for bids. He said when owners of Hruska Plumbing Co. pay the district their school real estate taxes, they will receive 100 percent of the money the district owes them.

• In separate business Tuesday, the school board awarded a contract to DeMatteo SealCoating Inc., to patch and seal the high school parking lot for $13,385.

• The board also approved raises of 2.25 percent for business office secretary Colleen Andreyo and the superintendent's secretary Kim Watkins.

• At Friday's meeting, Steel Valley school directors hired Melissa Pentin as middle school assistant principal at a salary of $58,186, and Sandy Reiner as accounts payable secretary at an annual salary of $32,500.

education - neigh_south

Anne Cloonan, freelance writer:


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