USC schools adopt budget, lower millage rate

Published Apr 23, 2013 at 8:39 am (Updated Apr 23, 2013 at 8:39 am)

Upper St. Clair School Board on April 22 adopted a proposed final budget for 2013-14 that lowers the real estate tax millage rate by 16.6 percent.

The board voted 7-0 to adopt the $65,966,523 budget. Board President Barbara Bolas and board member Rebecca Stern were absent.

The board had a goal of not raising taxes, and in fact is being forced by state law to lower its tax rate to account for an overall increase in taxable real estate value in the township as a result of the Allegheny County Reassessment, which takes effect this year. School districts are prohibited from gaining a so-called windfall in revenues solely as a result of increased property values, whereas municipalities are permitted a five percent increase in revenues.

Frosina Cordisco, director of business and finance, told the board that the latest figures from the county indicate that there are still about $38 million worth of unresolved reassessment appeals. The district must project what percent of those appeals the district will receive in the end. If the district sets the tax rate too low, those funds are lost. But if it sets the rate too high, it will be in a position to offer a refund or credit to taxpayers.

John Vogel, who represents the district in assessment appeals, said about one quarter of that $38 million is from four commercial property assessments being appealed: Friendship Village, the Target/Dick’s Sporting Goods/Sears portion of the South Hills Village Mall property, Summerfield Commons and the former Consol headquarters site.

The real estate tax rate in the proposed final budget drops from 25.718 for 2012-13 to 21.438 for 2013-14.

Cordisco said that the 4.280 mill reduction will lower the tax bill on an individual home from $2,572 for every $100,000 in assessed value to $2,144 for every $100,000 in assessed value.

The board also set May 28 as the date it will vote on adoption of a final budget.

The district is not required by the state to adopt a budget until June 30, but district Superintendent Patrick O’Toole said that passing a budget the end of June as the board normally does makes it hard for the administration to arrange staffing, given retirements and any potential staff cuts called for in the budget.

“It’s difficult to have the time for properly planning for the school year,” he said.

O’Toole said that particularly at the high school there needs to be time to work with students’ schedules, when smaller classes are cancelled under current budget constraints and students must choose other classes. “We have to make staffing plans,” he said.

Board member Harry Kunselman said “a lot of well-reasoned thought went into this process.”

He said over the past three years “we have consistently not replaced people who have retired. We’ve reduced, reduced, reduced.”

“I think we should not be managing our fiscal affairs by crisis management,” like some other areas of the government do, Kunselman said.

Board Vice President Louis Mafrice said, “The unknowns are most likely to be there in June and beyond.”

Cordisco said that there are also many capital projects that are planned for the summer and it would be much better to have a budget adopted in May so that those plans can be made and work can commence as soon as possible.

The proposed final budget, as well as a letter and budget summary from O’Toole, are to be posted on the township’s website this week at uscsd.k12.pa.us.

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