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MARION CENTER: School directors weigh higher tax increase

by on June 17, 2014 10:55 AM

MARION CENTER — Marion Center Area administrators have asked the school board to approve a tax increase that’s slightly higher than the one called for under the district’s tentative budget.

At a board meeting Monday, administrators said that with some refined budget numbers in hand, they have a better picture of next year’s spending, which is looking to be about $51,400 more than they had projected. Therefore, administrators are seeking a tax increase of 1.75 mills, a half-mill more than what was called for in the tentative budget approved last month.

All told, the district is projecting expenses of $23.3 million, with salaries and benefits accounting for more than two-thirds of the general operating budget.

A 1.75 mill increase works out to a little more than $20 extra for properties carrying the average assessed value.

Business manager Richard Martini called the budget a maintenance budget, saying the district isn’t adding any programs, nor is it cutting any.

Officials had hoped the state would come through with financial support above what was called for in the proposed state budget. But with tax collections appearing to be significantly under projections, it’s not likely that support will materialize, officials said. And it’s questionable as to whether the district will even receive the base amount it had been told to expect, Martini said.

Nevertheless, he said, the district budgeted conservatively and built its spending plan on the assumption that state support would amount to about two-thirds of what officials had been told it would be.

Martini also told the board that over the next two years, the district expects to see its pension expenses increase nearly $400,000, the equivalent of 7 mills of taxes. Some of the revenue from the proposed tax increase would be set aside to mitigate the blow to the district from the rising contribution.

Two board members Monday night suggested the district should consider a tax increase of 3 mills, the highest it could increase the rate without exceeding the limit set under the state’s gambling revenue sharing program.

A 3 mill increase would work out to around an extra $40 for a property at the average assessed value.

“We’re going to need it in future years,” said board member Charles Glasser, who added that a tax increase would be easier to accept if it was raised a little bit at a time rather than all at once.

The board is to vote on a final budget next Monday.

In related budget matter, the district is proposing a 10-cent increase in the price of school lunches and a 15-cent increase in the price of breakfasts.

With the increase, breakfasts would cost $1.30. The price of elementary lunches would rise to $2.40, and high school lunches would increase to $2.65. Meals purchased through the reduced-price program would remain the same.

The increases would generate an extra $6,000 to $7,000, which would help mitigate a projected $24,000 shortfall in cafeteria operations.

Also Monday, the board hired a new girls’ basketball coach.

Julie Horner, who coached the Purchase Line Red Dragons for more than 10 seasons, will lead the Stingers. Horner is taking over for Jan Brocious, who stepped down in April for what she said were personal reasons.

“I wish the girls all the luck,” she said this morning.

Horner was cut loose from Purchase Line in 2012 when the district decided to open all of the coaching positions.

Also, the board hired Marion Center graduate Justin Hill as a physics teacher. He’ll earn $43,100 annually. Hill had been teaching in North Carolina before returning to the area.

The board also said goodbye to longtime district employee Bonnie Slater, who is retiring. Slater had most recently worked as the district’s food service director.

“We really appreciate what you’ve done for the district,” said Superintendent Frank Garritano.

Sam Kusic is a staff writer for The Indiana Gazette.
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