UNION TWP. — The budget and finance committee of the Northwest Area School Board discussed Wednesday night the possibility of imposing a .2207 mill tax increase in order to finance a 2013-14 proposed budget of $18.1 million.
In addition, it was stated at the meeting the board is considering a bond issue of either $1.2 million or $2.2 million to pay for school building renovations. Albert Melone Jr., financial adviser, said another $48,000 in debt maintenance costs would result from a $1.2 million bond.
The proposed tax increase would constitute an average increase of $21 in taxes for individuals with properties valued at $95,000 to $100,000, Melone said. He said the hike is needed to compensate for a projected $245,000 deficit.
The school district has to submit a balanced budget to the state Department of Education by June 30. Discussions on the preliminary spending plan are scheduled to continue at a the board’s regular monthly meeting on May 16.
According to the budget proposal, taxes would increase from 9.1986 mills during the current school year to 9.4193 mills in 2013-14.
Through consolidation of programs and other cost reductions by the school’s administrative personnel, the committee has seen a substantial reduction in a deficit that in April stood at $645,000, Melone said. He said the projected tax hike falls within the 2 percent index stipulated by the state under Act 1.
Superintendent Ronald Grevera said a major contributor to the deficit involves expenses incurred for cyber school students. The district has 50 students enrolled in cyber school at an annual cost of $10,000 per student, for a total of $500,000, he said.
He said he hopes efforts can be made to have those students return to the normal curriculum of the Northwest district in order to reduce its costs.
In response to questions by school director Gerald Conger, Melone estimated that bond issue could be resolved by June or July.
Board President Randy Tomassaci indicted officials are anxious “to get moving” on costs and plans for the several renovation projects the board is considering.
In contrast to the projected tax hike, said Melone, savings have been realized through “the positive” teacher contract recently negotiated, by energy programs that have reduced costs for heating oil and electricity and by the existence of the state casino-funded property tax relief program, which has saved Northwest taxpayers an estimated $168 per year. Changes in the health care trust program also resulted in a major reduction, Melone said.
“While we have been able to deal with major issues, costs have been cut about as thin as we can get,” Melone said. However, he said, “if we get a break from the (Luzerne Intermediate Unit) or get lucky with the state and feds, maybe we can still get this deficit down.”