The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


May 25, 2010

Local school tax assessments exceed state averages

MILTON — Many of the Valley’s school boards are planning to increase taxes higher than the statewide average for the 2010-11 school year.

That’s especially true in the Milton Area School District, where some taxpayers are poised to get hit with a 19 percent property tax increase.

The school board is proposing the increase for property owners in the Union County portion of the district, while decreasing taxes by 1.9 percent for Northumberland County residents.

Acting Superintendant Brian Snyder said he understands the frustration.

“The State Tax and Equalization Board sets the sales value, assessment and they do the calculations and equalize the mills in each county,” Snyder said.

The school board is free to set its own taxes, but the equalization board directs the school districts to levy taxes so that property owners pay comparable amounts when districts cross county lines.

Snyder also blames the increase on a shift in property values between counties.

“The shift has happened in market value, and that is what it is based on,” Snyder said. “We understand the frustrations people have, but it is all based on the market value.”

Snyder said that 89 of the 500 school districts in Pennsylvania are experiencing similar problems, and he wasn’t surprised to see about 100 concerned taxpayers at the most recent school board meeting.

“We are not the only ones going through this,” Snyder said.

“I knew it was a concern, and with all the people that showed up we really do understand their anger, and we will still be having meetings to discuss the increase.”

While Milton has the most eye-popping tax increase, a number of other districts are also exceeding the state Department of Education’s index rate that is supposed to keep districts from increasing taxes higher than the rate of inflation.

According to Leah Harris, deputy press secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Education, the Act 1 index regulates the rates at which each school district can raise property taxes. Districts are not allowed to raise taxes above that index unless they allow voters to vote by referendum, or they seek an exception from the state Department of Education. The base index for the 2010-2011 school year is 2.9 percent, but it can be adjusted higher, depending on a number of factors, such as property values and the personal income of district residents.

A variety of exceptions are available to districts, including increasing health care costs or dwindling tax bases.

In Lewisburg, taxes are scheduled to increase 9.9 percent. In dollar amounts, that is $889,937, with $310,963 due to exceptions of special education expenditures and pension obligations.

In the Shikellamy School District, the increase is expected be 9.5 percent, or $1.15 million, with $643,012 also due to exceptions involving special education expenditures and pension obligations.

Line Mountain School District taxpayers will possibly see a 5.5 percent increase, or $407,903, of which $240,390 is due to exceptions involving school construction, maintenance of local tax revenue, health-care related benefits and pension obligations.

Midd-West was able to raise taxes nearly $750,000 more than the index originally allowed because of exceptions granted them for the need for increased revenue, pensions, and a special education expenditure.

Mifflinburg is scheduling a 6 percent increase, Selinsgrove a 3.8 percent increase and Danville a 3.5 percent.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education reports that the statewide average increase is 2.9 percent, down from 4.1 percent in the 2009-10 school year and 4.4 percent in 2008-09. Of the 165 school districts in the state that filed preliminary budgets, 135 of them exceeded the index. Of the 135, 133 were granted exceptions. In all, 128 of the 133 school districts applied for exceptions because of pension obligations, compared to six last year.

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