The Greater Latrobe School Board is expected to approve a resolution at next week’s regular meeting, stating that it will not raise taxes above 3.11 mills this year.
District officials have until Jan. 28 to decide if they want to adopt the resolution not to exceed the cost-of-living index, or if they wanted to follow the preliminary budget process. The board’s regular meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 19.
The cost-of-living index is 3%, but the adjusted index for the district is 3.7%, which equates to a maximum millage increase of 3.11 mills, or a little more than $1 million. The value of one mill is $345,000.
“Our goal, based on the situation that we’re in with (the coronavirus) and understanding the issues facing our community … is we want to minimize any potential tax increase as much as possible,” Greater Latrobe Business Administrator Dan Watson said.
“The first step is adopting this index, guaranteeing we’re staying below that. Then, we’ll continue to hopefully gain more information from the state and federal government on what levels of funding we’ll be eligible to receive and then we’ll continue to meet internally about how we can control our expenditures to hopefully get as close to a balanced budget as possible.”
If the board adopts the resolution next week, it cannot exceed a 3.11-mill increase. If for some reason Greater Latrobe officials feel they cannot operate within those parameters, they will need to adopt a preliminary budget.
The board must adopt a proposed final budget in May and a final budget by June 30.
Board members voted last June to adopt a $57,085,874 budget that was significantly impacted by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and included a tax increase of 1.75 mills. A 1.75-mill tax increase impacted the average tax payer by about $47 per year, as the average assessed value of a home within the district was at $26,581.
Last year, the board had the ability to raise taxes a maximum 2.71 mills, which would’ve brought in $934,950 in additional revenue.
Because of the pandemic, the district placed a freeze on all non-essential spending and cut $1,581,920 from its preliminary budget. As a result of the cuts, Greater Latrobe officials recommended a zero-increase to the expenditure side of the budget for the current 2020-21 school year. As a result of the pandemic, the district also anticipated a loss of $1,143,972 in local and state revenue for the current budget, but officials bridged the gap using a portion of the fund balance and CARES emergency relief funding.
Watson said similar emergency relief funding, passed by Congress, is available for the upcoming budget, adding that the district could be in line to possibly receive as much as $1.8 million.
“Money like that will help offset the shortfall in local revenue as well as any shortfall we may incur from the state,” Watson said.
Watson expressed concern with the district’s earned income tax projections.
“We reduced our (earned income tax) budget by 11.5% and that’s coming true,” Watson said. “We’re not seeing as much revenue come in, particularly in that budget line item, as we had hoped, and our investments are way down, as everybody else has experienced the same thing, so there’s some stress and some concern in those two areas.”
In November, the school board approved bond refinancing parameters that produced significant savings. School officials expected a minimum of $200,000 to $250,000 worth of savings, but Watson noted the bond refinance saved the district more than $300,000, which will help the budget process.
“We’re in no different situation than any other school district,” Watson said. “We’ll continue to work through it and find ways to cut costs, and hopefully get as close to a balanced budget as we can.”
Two years ago, the school board voted to adopt a $57,085,874 budget that included a shortfall of $340,000, requiring a 1-mill tax increase. The tax hike impacted the average taxpayer by about $25 a year. The cost-of-living index that year was 2.3%, or 2.36 mills, which meant the district could have increased taxes a maximum of $802,400.
Three years ago, the final operating budget of $56,066,709 included a shortfall of $170,000, or a half-mill increase, impacting the average taxpayer by $13. The district could have increased taxes a maximum of $850,000 that year.
Four years ago, Greater Latrobe approved a $55.4-million spending plan that had a 1.75-mill tax increase. The board could have increased taxes a maximum of 2.53 mills that year, or about $854,000. Five years ago, Greater Latrobe didn’t raise taxes, and six years ago, the district passed a $53.4-million spending plan that included a tax increase of one mill.
Additional items on next week’s agenda include:
- Resignation of Susan Caldwell, payroll manager; David Cook, senior high teacher; Mary Koluder, part-time secretary; Alan Wolfe, custodian;
- Substitute teachers, including Gabrielle Morreale, physical education; Joel Trentin, social studies and English;
- Amy Sassos, confidential secretary and Nicole Jamison, part-time food service;
- Tyler Gustafson, volunteer wrestling coach and Michael Yandrick, volunteer basketball coach;
- Act 93 prerequisite program;
- Advertisement of board retreat on April 24;
- School calendar changes, including a makeup day on Tuesday, April 6 as opposed to June 8;
- Sign language interpreting professional fees and policies;
- St. Francis University cooperative academic agreement;
- New Story rate reduction tuition agreement;
- Local audit report from Horner, Wible and Terek, PC;
- Gift, grants and donations of $6,000 for a United Way school readiness and transition plan;
- Renewal of Johnson Controls Fire Protection LP services agreement;
- Bids for maintenance vehicles;
- Nomination for a school board member to serve on the Westmoreland Intermediate Unit board of directors;
- E-Rate Network equipment award.