Taxes expected to remain steady in Peters
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Homeowners in Peters can breathe a sigh of relief -- there will be no big increase in school district property taxes next year.
In fact, it's likely that property owners will see no tax increase at all next year, due to a five-year fiscal plan that is on track, school board member Thomas McMurray said.
School directors Monday voted unanimously for a resolution stating that the district does not plan to raise taxes by more than 1.7 percent, or about 1.33 mills -- the maximum allowed under a state-mandated inflationary cap. Unlike last year, the district has no plans to seek exceptions for special education, construction or pension costs.
If the school board anticipated a larger increase, it would have been required to begin the budgeting process this month to allow enough time to place the issue on the primary ballot next year.
But officials believe a 3.79-mill property tax increase last year, combined with steady tax hikes since 2003, have given the district enough of a cushion to forgo a tax increase this year.
The district has a real estate tax rate of 100.3 mills, and even though it is among the higher-performing districts in the state, it has one of the lowest cost-per-pupil rates in Pennsylvania -- about $10,978. The state average is $13,869.
In other business, the board voted 8-1 to support township council members in their dispute with Washington County commissioners over the financing of real estate appraisals as part of a tax appeal process.
Last week, council members voted to send a letter to commissioners to complain about the lack of county support in real estate tax appeals -- about 200 of which are still outstanding in Peters.
Although the appeals process pits the property owner against the township, the school district and the county, the county has in recent months declined to help pay for property appraisals, saying they are unreliable and rarely change the outcome of a tax appeal. The county is responsible for setting property values.
"Without a reassessment, we can't win any of these appeals and we know it," said Debbie Bardella, director of the county Tax Revenue Department. "We don't have a leg to stand on."
Usually, Ms. Bardella said, the county, municipality and school district offer an acceptable settlement to property owners. Those who dispute their assessments can appeal to a three-member board of appeals, then to Common Pleas Court, if necessary.
The assessments and appraisals rely on property values established in 1981 -- the last time the county conducted a reassessment.
The county currently is under a court order to conduct a reassessment, but its appeal of that decision has been wending its way through the court system in recent years.
District and township officials said they, too, would like to forgo the $350 appraisals, but to do so would open the door to more appeals, Mr. McMurray said.
"They have chosen not to support us financially," he said of the county. "We're paying the bills."
David Hvizdos was the lone dissenter in the vote.
Also Monday, the board reorganized, re-electing Cindy Golembiewski as board president and Lori Cuervo as vice president.
The board announced it will begin to interview candidates from a superintendent search firm at its Dec. 17 meeting, although the board is waiting for a legal opinion from solicitor Jack Cambest to determine whether the meeting must be open to the public. Nina Zetty resigned last month to accept a job as superintendent of Gateway School District.
First Published December 6, 2012 5:02 am