Early budget leaves room for tax boost in Moon

If OK'd later, increase could be 0.87 mill

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Moon Area School District critics have been predicting large tax increases because of the district's $121 million building and renovation plan.

The school board Monday night passed a preliminary budget with a maximum potential tax increase within a state-set annual allowance.

The budget did, however, include a one-time exception allowing for a larger-than-usual tax increase when the budget is finalized in June.

Under Act One of 2006 -- the legislation that provided gambling revenues as relief for schools -- school districts are limited in how much they can increase taxes. The state Department of Education sets an index for the increase.

If they wish to increase taxes more, districts must submit the question to a referendum on the May ballot. That has forced school districts to pass preliminary budgets early each year in order to meet ballot deadlines.

Since few school officials relish the prospect of a referendum, most districts each January pledge to stay below the index if they increase taxes.

Districts facing certain unavoidable costs may apply for permission to increase taxes beyond the index on a one-time basis to address those costs.

One of the bigger exceptions is the cost of funding pensions for employees through the Pennsylvania State Employees Retirement System.

For the 2010-11 school year, the regular index is 2.9 percent, which in the Moon district equates to 0.61 mill. Moon also applied for and got permission to use the PSERS exception, which would allow for an additional increase of 0.26 mill for a total of 0.87 mill.

The district, which covers Moon and Crescent, has a current tax rate of 21.3 mills with each mill raising about $1.7 million in revenue.

Having the exception in hand does not mean the district will raise taxes by 0.87 mill or even by the index's 0.61 mill. But it does mean it has the option of enacting the additional millage.

Overall, the preliminary budget projected spending at $60.4 million. With no tax increase, the projected revenue is $59.2 million. That would rise to $60.7 million if the board took the index increase and the PSERS exception.

Brian David: bdavid@post-gazette.com or 412-722-0086.


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