Did that get your attention? Good. Well I have some bad news but I also have some good news. Before I explain how you can influence your property taxes (the good news), let me first give some general background information that may help.
Note: While in this post I speak about the Northgate School District and residents of Avalon and Bellevue, this post can apply to all school districts and neighborhoods in Pennsylvania.
Some Background Information To Get Us On The Same Page
Northgate’s largest sources of revenue are local property taxes and state level funding, just like all the other public school districts in the state. In 2011, Governor Tom Corbett cut almost $1 billion of that state funding. Since then, the situation hasn’t improved much. There are other factors hurting PA schools, such as unfair funding formulas for special education and threats from charter schools to name a few, but I think many of us can agree that the biggest punch to the face has been the drastic cuts from the Corbett administration. Now I haven’t looked back at budgets from previous years to determine the exact dollar amount that Northgate lost from the Corbett cuts, but I can make a guess. Corbett cut about $1 billion and there are 501 school districts in PA.
$1,000,000,000 / 501 = almost $2 million dollars!!! Yikes!
Who do you think has to take the burden and make up for missing revenue (hint…see the title of the post)? Actually I will tell you that the students have already been feeling the pain. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in Northgate and would not send my daughter to Bellevue Elementary if I didn’t think she was getting a great education. However I do believe Northgate is under-staffed and I do believe there is a funding crisis that is hurting the students and like many schools across the state, the budget will influence a lot of decision making. Unfortunately I think quality of education isn’t on most people’s radar, so that brings me to the next group of people to be hurt from public education funding cuts and something that is very dear to them…TAX PAYERS AND THEIR MONEY!
Now For The Bad News
At the last Northgate School Board Finance Committee Meeting, we were talking about the Proposed Preliminary Budget and we were looking at financial projections for the next four years. If there were no tax increase whatsoever, by the end of the 2015-2016 school year, our ending fund balance would be depleted and we would be over $1 million in the hole. By the end of 2017-2018, we would be over $7 million in the hole. Now if Northgate decided to raise property taxes to the index each year (the maximum allowed by law without seeking exceptions or a referendum), we project that we would still be hundreds of thousands of dollars in the hole in the next two years.
So What Does This All This Mean?
Northgate’s current millage is 23.7071 mils. By law, Northgate cannot raise taxes more than 2.8 percent (the index), which means the millage cannot be increased to more than 24.37. Now, there are a few exceptions which could allow the district to raise taxes above that limit. Northgate can legitimately claim exceptions on retirement and special education costs to further increase the amount of property taxes collected.
So Does This Mean Property Taxes Are Going Up?
Northgate has to prepare a Proposed Preliminary Budget and can seek authorization to be able to raise the millage above the index as stated above. It is in the best interest of the school district to apply for such exceptions because it leaves the door open for that possibility. It DOES NOT mean that the millage will be increased to the maximum. It is also important to keep in mind that this is just the “Proposed Preliminary” Budget and will be sure to change and get refined throughout the year. Whether or not taxes will be raised has yet to be decided, although there is a very good chance of at least some type of tax increase.
So What’s The Good News?
The good news is there are things you can do to help!
Call your state legislators and demand they restore basic education funding that was cut. Seriously, a phone call will only take a few minutes. In January 2013 when the district approved the furlough of about 20 percent of its teachers, there was an amazing public outcry. If there was a similar statewide outcry, I am sure we would see positive change. You can find state legislator information here. And while you’re at it, Education Voters of Pennsylvania has some other ways that you can take action, including other items to mention while you are on the phone. Also, as campaigns get started for the 2014 election cycle, over the coming months it would be a good idea to get to know the candidates for state office (particularly for district 20) and how they plan to resolve the education funding crisis. Demand details that are more than just rhetoric and wishful thinking.
If you would like clarification on anything mentioned in this post feel free to contact me. If you would like to learn more feel free to come to the school board meetings. The finance committee meetings are also open to public and are held at 6:30 pm on the same day as the Committee of the Whole meetings (2nd Monday of the month).