You might recall the old commercials advertising Fram Oil Filters.
You'll remember the catchphrase: “You can pay me now, or pay me later.”
Upper St. Clair School Board, or at least a slim majority of board members, has opted for the former.
By a 5-4 vote Monday, the board approved an amendment to the proposed 2012-13 operating budget, calling for a 1.618-mill property tax increase. The tentative version of the spending plan provided for an additional 1.375 mills.
The revised figure brings the tax rate to 25.718. For owners of property valued at $200,000, the increase means an extra $323.60 on the tax bill.
Frosina Cordisco, district director of business and finance, presented the numbers in the proposed budget for the board’s consideration in adopting the final budget.
Before a vote could be taken, board member Angela Petersen moved for an amendment, calling for the 1.618-mill increase. That represents the maximum allowed for Upper St. Clair under Pennsylvania’s Act 1 of 2006, the Taxpayer Relief Act.
Petersen said that by raising taxes by a larger figure now, the board might be able to hold the line in 2013-14.
Following a lengthy discussion, board members originally voted 5-4 against Petersen’s amendment. Board vice president Barbara Bolas called for a second vote, changing her ballot to positive and joining Petersen, board president Rebecca Stern, Amy Billerbeck and Frank Kerber.
Voting against were Buffy Hasco, Harry Kunselman, Louis Mafrice Jr. and Louis Oliverio.
With the amendment approved, the board voted 6-3 to adopt the budget, with Hasco agreeing to that measure.
By implementing the higher rate for 2012-13, Petersen contended, the district potentially could save taxpayers money over the two-year period, with the projected budget shortfall almost the same under either scenario.
“Our taxpayers could possibly anticipate no tax increase next year, and actually the millage over the two years is lower,” she said. “We all agree that after two years, the scenario is very bleak.”
The major issue facing Upper St. Clair and other Pennsylvania districts is the massive financial obligation to the state Public School Employees' Retirement System.
Upper St. Clair’s responsibility is anticipated to increase from $2.76 million in 2011-12 to an estimated $8.52 million in 2015-16. The latter figure would eat up almost 2.5 mills’ worth of local taxes, according to district projections.
Bolas reconsidered her vote on the millage amendment following an emotional statement about doing what’s best for students.
“I just can’t walk away from what my life has been about,” she said, “and that’s making a better future for the next generation.”
Kunselman argued against raising the tax increase, saying the potential savings discussed by Petersen “don’t matter in the big picture” of looming pension payments an that he’d prefer to ease the coming year’s burden on local property owners.
“I just feel like the preliminary budget that we came up with was a reasonable compromise among all the different positions that were expressed here at this table,” Kunselman said. “And so I would feel much more comfortable staying with the current motion.”