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School Tax Increase Higher Than Called For In Preliminary Budget

A narrow majority of the Upper St. Clair School Board opts for a rate that could result in no increase for 2013-14.

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.”

William Johns June 26, 2012 at 07:26 PM
I hate to rain on the parade, but your catchphrase, "pay me now or pay me later" in the hands of our current school board should be, "pay me now AND pay me later." I wonder what the Vegas odds are for another increase next year, and another, and another. Especially if the looming PSERS debacle continues unabated.
Robert A. Shoaf June 26, 2012 at 08:56 PM
It's a virtual certainty that we will face yet another tax increase next year, despite all of the smoke blowing and disingenous comments by the irresponsible school board. I am so heartened to hear the humble comments by Bolas about "'making a better future for the next generation." As the late Myron Cope might say, double yoi! And, of course, the blame will be laid at the feet of the state government, which does deserve nothing but contempt for the upcoming pension blowup, and, the feds, of course. Yet, does the local board not bear some responsibility for this fiasco, which will impact all taxpayers? Would someone please explain?
Tax Payer June 26, 2012 at 09:12 PM
"By implementing the higher rate for 2012-13, Petersen contended, the district potentially could save taxpayers money over the two-year period." Oh joy! Ms. Peterson is concerned about saving the taxpayers money! Does the school board think the residents of USC are stupid? We'll find out next election. I don't know of anyone who thinks this over-taxation is acceptable.
Robert A. Shoaf June 26, 2012 at 10:20 PM
Upon reflection, I believe that my comments regarding Ms. Bolas were too harsh, and in reponse to my frustration, which is no excuse. I'm certain that she is dedicated to improving the school district, and educating the students as best as possible. The seemingly never-ending tax increaes are what upset me. My apolgies if I offended.
Mark Trombetta June 26, 2012 at 10:35 PM
This is the Webster definition of irresponsible. Mrs Petersen remarked that she did not get any calls about the tax increase. I believe her home phone is listed. She must not have seen the more than 100 residents who came to meet her face-to-face to express their collective outrage. They need to be thrown out.
Judy June 26, 2012 at 10:36 PM
Mrs. Peterson commented last night that they (school board) could have use Act I millage since 2006. They have left 4.8 mills "in the hands of the taxpayers" for the past 5 years. She said they gave the taxpayers a "gift" in not getting that 4.8 mills. Also, she said that if they take the max increase this year they won't have to increase next year. Yeah, right. I'm happy for her that she has plenty of money to pay taxes and still have a comfortable life. I wish she and the rest of the board would quit blaming the state for the majority of the board's own incompetence in past decisions. There are 3 people on the board who actually seem to represent the taxpayers.
Judy June 26, 2012 at 10:37 PM
I don't think she's listening to her messages or reading her email.
Jay Bahr June 27, 2012 at 02:40 PM
I am so furious - it is difficult to comment. Pererson is at the top of the list of those that have to go next cycle. There is no longer any common sense or accountability. To all who posted - please get involved the next time we have an opportunity to vote these folks out. Peterson honestly believes a tax increase helps to focus anger on Harrisburg?? She is so completely misguided and full of contempt for working class folks in the boro trying to make ends meet.
William Johns June 27, 2012 at 02:55 PM
For those who think education has been shorted, a short but good article fyi. http://www.commonwealthfoundation.org/policyblog/detail/doubling-of-education-spending-a-myth
Jay Bahr June 28, 2012 at 12:55 PM
Last evening while the kids were playing outside, several neighbors and I held an impromptu town hall right on the street and they were plenty irate at the tax increase. We discussed board members by name and had some thoughts about how to handle the next election cycle. Ms. Peterson stated that approving the higher millage rage was advantageous because they would try to keep the number the same for the next few years. After discussion last evening, even if the millage is the same – my school taxes will go up again next year with the increase in my county assessment. Peterson is quite disingenuous (and that is being KIND!)
Harry Funk July 01, 2012 at 02:52 PM
We received our school tax bill yesterday. They wasted no time in mailing those out with the tax increase! The check will be stained with tears ...

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