FORD CITY — The Armstrong School District Board of School Directors voted Thursday to take advantage of a state exception to limits on real estate tax increases, approving a $98.3 million budget that includes a tax increase of around 10 mills for Indiana County residents and 2 mills for Armstrong County residents.
That brings the millage rate to 56.63 mills in Armstrong County, for an increase of about $62 for the average homeowner; and 160.82 in Indiana County, for an increase of around $157 in Indiana County.
In May, the board approved a preliminary budget with a lower tax increase, up to the limit of what the state allows without taking the question to voters through a referendum. But the district was approved to raise taxes an additional 1.12 mills in Armstrong County and 4.58 mills in Indiana County to help offset retirement contributions, and the board followed the recommendation of the administration to take advantage of that exception. The tax increase brings tax levels back up to about where they were in 2003-2004.
John Zenone, director of business affairs, pointed to the rising health care costs and retirement contributions as the drivers behind the tax increase, combined with minimal state funding increases and upcoming debt service payments.
The budget includes the establishment of a capital reserve fund for future capital projects; adds $601,734 to a portion of the fund balance earmarked for retirement costs in the future; and $2 million in the general reserve for the potential of a charter school opening in the area.
Everlasting Elderton Charter School’s application was denied earlier this year and they have not appealed, but Zenone said that charter schools can reapply at any time.
“We can, year in and year out, have this battle,” he said. “Until that is completely defeated, defeased, we need to keep (the money in reserves).”
The budget projects a difference of about $5 million between revenues and expenditures, which will be made up out of the fund balance, bringing the balance to about $1.88 million by the end of the school year.
The budget was approved unanimously by those present. Directors Amy Lhote, Royce Smeltzer and Larry Robb were absent.
Board members also voted to implement the Homestead and Farmstead Exclusion for the year, which allows for a decrease of $295.41 for people who qualify in the district.
In other business, the board voted to:
• Award the demolition of the former Shannock Valley High School/warehouse to L&G Refuse, of Rural Valley, for a payment of $150,000 and the property, valued at $5,000.
• Authorize an agreement with Leechburg Area School District to each keep the other’s backup server in its own data center; approve the voluntary student accident insurance with United States Fire Insurance Co.; approve School Claims Service to administer the dental plan for $3.50 per month, per employee; name ESS Insurance Group as insurance broker for the year for $488,673; and hire Hosack, Specht, Muetzel and Wood as auditors, for $36,950 for the current year, $38,000 for next year, and $39,150 for 2014-15.
• Direct L.R. Kimball to submit planning documents, PlanCon Part H, to the state for the new junior-senior high school.
• Enter into the Allegheny Intermediate Unit gasoline and diesel consortium; gas was set at $2.79 a gallon and diesel at $3.05.
• Approve a cooperative sponsorship with Indiana and Blairsville-Saltsburg School Districts for girls’ lacrosse, at no cost to the district.