The school board voted down a measure 6-3 Monday night that would have allowed administrators to apply for special exceptions to increase taxes above 2.07-mills or 2.8 percent, the index set for the 2014-15 school year.
MC Knafelc, Kimberly Locher and Scott Angus voted in favor of applying for Act 1 exceptions, while Mary Jo Kehoe, Jeremy Angus, Kelly Smith, Robert Keber, Roger Kowal and John Baker voted against it.
Under the state’s Act 1, the district could apply for three special exceptions: to help cover the increase in the Public School Employees' Retirement System, special education and “grand-fathered” debt expenses.
Knafelc, who made the motion, said the board shouldn't limit its options.
“I hope very much that we can avoid raising taxes, however in the process, we need to have all the avenues available to us,” Knafelc said.
Instead, the board voted 5-4 to adopt a resolution supporting its decision not to increase taxes above index for the 2014-15 school year. Kehoe, Jeremy Angus, Smith, Keber and Baker voted in favor while Knafelc, Locher, Kowal and Scott Angus voted against the resolution.
In presenting preliminary budget numbers, Business Manager Mary Baker said the district faces a deficit of approximately $1,139,153 without a tax increase. A 2.07-mill increase would leave a $631,886 deficit.
Baker, who the board officially hired as business manager Monday night, said the district’s projected expenses include salaries, retirement increases and health insurance increases, and takes into account potential revenues from tax collection and a loss in federal ACCESS funding.
“Everything is very preliminary. We've received no state and federal allocations at this time,” Baker said.
Baker said she doesn't believe Ambridge will end this school year with a budget deficit. The district instituted a budget freeze on Jan. 1, excluding utilities and other necessities. There is also about $4 million in the fund balance, which could be used to help offset shortfalls or tax increases. Mark Turnley of Ambridge is currently conducting a thorough audit.
A homeowner with an assessed value of $50,000 would pay $103.50 more per year in taxes for 2014-15 as compared to currently.
Roger Kowal said he believes some people will lose their homes if taxes increase.
“I think what we need to do is not raise any taxes and start looking at ways to save money,” he said.
Knafelc said she got on the board three years ago for the students, and has watched programs for the students get cut.
“I pay taxes. I hate taxes, but I love students and I will not vote again to cut any programs, sports, anything. I owe to these kids at least as much school as I got, as my parents got during the Great Depression. I am not cutting programs that we somehow could handle during horrific times.”
Superintendent Cynthia Zurchin said administrators will focus on other alternatives to find savings while continuing to offer wonderful programs.
“Certainly we do not want to cut programs, we do not want to cut our services to our students,” Zurchin said.
Kehoe cautioned that “the budget is always a work in progress.”
“It changes daily, weekly,” Kehoe said.
The district must adopt a final budget in June.
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