Pittsburgh public school board approves 2 percent tax increase

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The board of Pittsburgh Public Schools tonight approved a property tax increase of 2 percent that will yield $3 million for the school district but still leaves the district with a budget deficit.

The increase is 0.19 mills, which takes the millage rate from 9.65 mills to 9.84 mills.

One mill generates $1 of tax for each $1,000 of assessed property value.

The vote was 7-2, with board members Bill Isler and Sherry Hazuda voting no.

The district had gone more than a decade without raising the property tax rate until it raised the rate in 2013.

Mr. Isler said, "I just can't support it due to the fact it's two tax increases two years in a row."

He noted the board had declined to sell two closed school buildings and rescinded a vote to consider closing Pittsburgh Woolslair K-5 on the Lawrenceville-Bloomfield border, all moves that he thinks would have generated or saved money.

Board members Mark Brentley Sr., Regina Holley and Terry Kennedy spoke in favor of the increase.

Ms. Holley said that poor communities have been hurt by school closings.

"We cannot balance the budget off the backs of the poor people, the poor children and the poor communities in this school district," Ms. Holley said,

In December, the board approved a $529.1 million budget for calendar 2014, but received court permission to delay voting on the tax rate until this month because of the uncertainty caused by property tax assessment appeals.

The approved budget had a deficit of $17.4 million this year, without including the tax rate increase. In addition, district officials continue to work on ways to trim expenses.

The countywide property tax reassessment took effect in calendar 2013 while both commercial and residential taxpayers continued to appeal their new property values.

As a result of the appeals, the district ended 2013 with about $10.3 million less than it expected from property tax revenues. The appeals are not done yet.

The amount a school district can increase property taxes is limited by a state law known as Act 1. The increase approved tonight was the most allowed without a referendum.

After more than a decade of steady property taxes, the board for 2013 approved a tax increase of 0.16 mills, also the most allowed without a referendum. The earlier increase enabled the district to set up a $3 million escrow fund for appeals, but that has been exhausted.

The board also approved a homestead exemption tonight. The homestead exemption for 2014 is $29,131. For residents who apply, this amount can be deducted from the value of their primary home for tax purposes.

The amount of exclusion is based on the nearly $15.6 million the district will get from the state in gaming revenues.

The city announced today that tax bills for the city and the school district will be sent out Feb. 14.

Education writer Eleanor Chute: echute@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1955.

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