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Pottsgrove Wrestles Earlier With Annual Budget

POTTSTOWN PA – As if they haven’t got enough on their plates, members of the Pottsgrove Board of School Directors learned Tuesday (Oct. 13, 2015) they’ll need to wrestle earlier than usual with the district’s annual budget.

Pennsylvania’s late-April scheduling of spring primary elections means certain budget decisions – which in years past might have been delayed until February – must now be made by early winter, Business Administrator David Nester explained.

“The whole budget process backs up” as a result, he said. Consequently, directors probably should consider agreeing by December on announcing taxation targets for the 2016-2017 spending plan, Nester suggested.

Act 1, the years-old state law that uses a formula to calculate how much district tax rates can rise annually, has set the 2016 base rate of increase at 2.4 percent, Nester said. Because Pottsgrove is a poorer district, it will be allowed a tax increase of as much as 3.1 percent. If it applies for special exemptions, the percentage might even creep a little higher.

The board must announce to the public, in legal notices published by specific deadlines, how much it might seek to raise rates. It would not be locked into any rate, but by law could not exceed the published target.

Last February the board decided it would not seek any exemptions for the current year (2015-’16) budget and stay within its Act 1 maximum. Ultimately it passed a plan that raised taxes only 0.55 percent, well below the limit and representing the lowest such increase of the past five years.

Board members are already grappling with several issues that affect finances:

  • They’ve become increasingly anxious about the outcome of a state budget that’s now four months overdue, and on which Pottsgrove relies for a major portion of funding. Pennsylvania’s Legislature and Gov. Tom Wolf have yet to agree on its basics.
  • The rhetoric over the lack of a labor contract between the district and its teachers is getting decidedly hotter on both sides of the negotiating table. Each party accuses the other of failing to compromise, either enough or at all.
  • While keeping a watchful eye on costs for reconstruction of Pottsgrove High School, directors heard two weeks ago they will soon be asked to approve expenses for paving repairs at the middle and Lower Pottsgrove Elementary schools, as well as to obtain estimates for fixing the ventilation system at Ringing Rocks Elementary. It is suspected as a cause of mold growth there.

Nester referred to the lack of a state budget as “the 800-pound gorilla in the room.” As long as Pottsgrove remains in the dark about the amount of funding it might reasonably expect, he said, constructing a budget in a shortened time frame could be difficult.

Although he offered no direct advice to the board on what it might do regarding exemptions, Nester sounded a note of caution. “From a flexibility standpoint, there’s value in keeping your options open,” he told directors.

For the same reason, director Rick Rabinowitz urged Nester to give them as much time as possible.

“I’m not comfortable making these kinds of decisions before new board members are seated, Rabinowitz said, referring to winners of the Nov. 3 general elections who will take their places as directors shortly thereafter. “And until we know what’s happening with the state and with negotiations,” Rabinowitz added he hoped to put off decision-making “as late as we can.”

“There’s no need for a decision tonight,” Nester assured directors Tuesday, because for now December is still eight weeks away.

Related (to the Pottsgrove Board of School Directors’ Oct. 13 meeting):

Illustration from Google Images

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