The Quakertown Community School board approved a final budget Wednesday that will include a 1.9 percent tax increase for local residents in the coming school year.
The directors voted 7-2 to approve the uptick that will result in an average real estate tax hike of $72 for Quakertown residents and raises the school district’s millage rate from 143.9 to 146.7.
The elimination of a per capita tax though, will lessen the average tax contribution by $10.
Facing a $2,048,781 budget shortfall, school officials utilized fund balance to lower the tax increase enough to get them below the 2.5 percent maximum allowable by the state.
“It sends a message to our community that we are controlling our expenses,” said superintendent William Harner of the district lowering taxes beyond previous projections. “We’re vigorously looking at the programs that change the world for students,” he said.
Quakertown budgets have seen a steady upsurge in expenditures in recent years, with next year’s projected total of $96,223,720 exceeding that of 2011’s by over $10 million.
Revenues meanwhile have experienced a slower climb, with totals rising about $6.3 million in that time span.
“Initially when the budget was introduced it was very close to that $100,000 mark” said board director Charles Shermer. “[The administration] worked very hard to get that number down.”
Over the past three years the cost of benefits have seen some of the highest rises, with retirement contributions going from $3,536,482 in 2011-12 to $9,018,852 in 2014-15.
School officials expressed optimism that the rising millage rate may be mitigated by economic growth in the region.
“We had to lower the value of our mill but the bright side is I see some growth,” Riegel. “We can start to see some development in the area.”
The board also approved the sale and refunding of their Series A 2014 and 2009 bonds for $9,995,000 each.
The refinancing process will allow the district to use current lower interest rates to save just over one million dollars over the life of the bonds that end in 2023.
Riegel though says the short term benefits of the deals may help to remedy the budget’s shortfalls.
“If you take those two pieces you’ll end up with a balanced budget,” said business administrator Robert Riegel. “That’s where we want to be.”
Board members however, continued to fault the Pennsylvania legislature and governor Tom Corbett in making balancing the budget so difficult.
“The whole pension issue is what’s dragging down every school district. We’ve gone from paying three million dollars and nine million dollars in just a few years,” said board director Bob Smith. “It’s time Harrisburg to step up and do what they’re supposed to do.”