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School Board Approves Budget, Passes 5.49% Tax Increase

by on June 09, 2015 6:40 AM

The State College Area School District is officially ready for the 2015-2016 school year.

After months of tweaking and planning, the school board passed its 2015-206 budget on Monday night.

The budget represents both a significant tax increase for State College residents and a major step forward for the district’s long awaited high school renovation project. Board member Jim Pawelczyk was the lone dissenting vote against passing the $137 million budget.

By passing the budget, the school board approved a 5.49 percent tax increase with a 41.67 millage rate. That tax increase is actually lower than the 6.09 percent that was considered in an earlier version of the budget.

For the average taxpayer with a home assessed at about $72,000, the 5.49 percent increase translates to an additional $156 dollars per year.

The majority of that tax increase – 3.59 percent of it, to be exact – will go directly to the $124 million cost of the high school project. In May 2014, State College voters agreed to pay $85 million of that total cost, which will be raised through the new tax increase.

The tax increase is significantly larger than the average yearly increase of 2.56 percent. Only the 2003-2004 budget, which called for a 6.17 percent increase, included a large tax increase than the current budget.

However, the 2015-2016 budget is also the only budget that’s had to account for a project as large as the high school renovation.

If considered without the 3.59 percent increase to fund the high school project, the remaining 1.9 percent increase is actually the second lowest increase passed by the school board since 2002.

The school board also approved a new program to help some State College residents offset the burden that may come from the taxes to pay for the new high school.

The school district will now offer a property tax rebate program for elderly and disabled residents, which board members approved with a final vote on Monday. The school district will accept applications for rebates starting on July 1, and will continue to take applications until June 30 of next year.

To take advantage of the program, taxpayers have to meet certain criteria: applicants must be a homeowner, at least 65 years old, at least 50 years old if the applicant is a widow, or at least 18 years old if the applicant has any disabilities.

Applicants must also must have received a homestead or farmstead exclusion for the 2014-2015 tax year; gotten a rebate from the Pennsylvania Property Tax/Rebate Program; and have paid their 2014-2015 real estate tax bill by the end of last December.

The rebate program, which was specifically designed for senior citizens and other residents living on fixed incomes, offers up to $650 per year per household. Rebates will be awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis, and checks will be mailed out every month.

For more information about the rebate program, residents are invited to attend an information session on Wednesday, June 10 from 10 to 11 a.m. at the State College Municipal Building on Allen Street.

The school board also heard an update on the high school project design, which is just about 90 percent complete. Although the blueprints look largely the same as they did at the 60 percent design milestone, SCASD Director of Physical Plant Ed Poprik assured the board that he and his team have been hard at work.

“A lot of the work that’s happened between 60 and 90 percent are technical details and the kinds of things we don’t talk about in public meetings,” Poprik said. “One major change with the floor plan is that we’ve managed to move the physical education space from just a concept to a 90 percent complete design in less than a month.”

The design team had to hit the ground running on the high school’s physical education plans after the school board added two new gyms back in April.

To learn more and ask questions about the 90 percent design milestone, residents should head to the State High north building auditorium on Tuesday night at 6:00 for a comprehensive overview of the plan.

School district officials broke ground on the high school project last month. Preliminary site work at the State High south building will begin this summer.

 

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Michael Martin Garrett is a reporter and editor for StateCollege.com who covers local government, the courts, the arts and writes the Keeping the Faith column. He's a Penn State alumnus, a published poet and the bassist in a local indie rock band.
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