The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

May 9, 2013

Lewisburg school board mulls tax increase

By Evamarie Socha
The Daily Item

— LEWISBURG — Lewisburg Area School District residents won’t know until month’s end what the real estate tax increase will be for 2013-14. The school board decided Thursday night to study at least two more percentage options before making a decision.

Last week, the Department of Education approved Lewisburg’s exception request, setting its real estate index at 4.4 percent. Its usual maximum is 2.3 percent.

In his 2013-14 budget presentation, Superintendent Mark DiRocco offered the school board four tax increase options but recommended one, an increase of 3.7 percent.

But given recent budget struggles — Lewisburg has cut $1.4 million from its payroll over the last three years — DiRocco said the district simply cannot continue “horrific cuts in personnel” without harming programs.

“We can’t go in every year with real slim contingencies,” he said of reserve funds.

That prompted director Mark Hendrickson to ask if not raising taxes to the maximum increase “is treading water.”

“We need to look at and study (the 4.4 percent increase) more,” he said. “If we’re getting to the point with no more fat to cut off the bone, we owe it at the very least to look at both options.”

Board President Kathy Swope asked Business Manager Ron Kabonick to draw up two more scenarios between 3.7 percent and 4.4 percent to consider. She said Lewisburg has never raised taxes to the maximum index allowed.

“Historically, we’ve tried to work with the community and balance with its needs,” Swope said. “We’ve always considered that because the community has been very good to us.”

The 3.7 percent option is still on the table. It would equal a 0.58-mill increase, pushing the rate from 15.48 mills to 16.06 mills. On a property with a $134,200 assessed value, for example, the increase would be $77.84 a year.

This budget has an unknown factor that could prove to be a large sum of money: how much state funding Lewisburg will receive. Lewisburg stands to get $78,755 for its basic education subsidy; however, that subsidy isn’t guaranteed and has been trimmed, if not cut altogether, in previous state budgets.

DiRocco said sources in Harrisburg indicate state budget negotiations, which started this week, will go down to the wire June 30.

Given the uncertainty of those funds — and also what Gov. Tom Corbett will do if his proposed revamping of retirement funding doesn’t happen — the school board won’t consider them in figuring final numbers.

The school district’s 2013-14 budget stands at $29.1 million with a $277,814 deficit. The board must adopt a budget at month’s end to give the public time to review it before final adoption by June 30.