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School Board Approves Proposed Preliminary Budget and Tax Increase

by on January 20, 2015 6:55 AM

A significant tax increase for area residents is now one step closer to reality.

The State College Area School District Board of Directors approved the district’s proposed preliminary 2015-2016 budget on Monday. School district business administrator Randy Brown says the approval is the first of four, which gives the school board ample time to review the budget and consider any changes that may arise before final adoption of the budget in June.

The budget currently calls for a 6.1 percent tax increase, which works out to an additional $173 dollars per year for the average taxpayer. The proposed tax hike was originally estimated to be a 5.5 percent increase, though the figure has since increased.

Under normal circumstances, the district would only be able to raise taxes by 1.9 percent, but Brown points out that the 6.1 percent increase also allows the district to begin making payments on debt for the high school renovation project.

State College voters approved the project through a public referendum in May, agreeing to pay additional taxes to fund $85 million of the project’s total $115 million cost. Brown says the district must apply for an exception to state law to approve the proposed 6.1 percent increase, but adds that an exception is guaranteed because the voters have already approved the cost of the high school project.

“This is still preliminary, and as such there are still a lot things we don’t know,” board member Laurel Zydney said. “We don’t even know what the governor’s budget will be yet.”

Though Brown says he doesn’t anticipate any major changes to the budget between now and June, the process does allow for some flexibility.

The proposed tax increase may ultimately change. The 6.1 percent increase was budgeted to account for higher interest rates on the high school project debt. The district may revise the budget or proposed tax increase in April, after the district sells its bonds in March as part of the high school project financing process.

“This is a complex amount of information, and it still has five months to change,” said board member Ann McGlaughlin. “I think it’s important that we come up with a way to communicate what this budget is and what it means to people in a couple paragraphs.”

Other board members agreed with this suggestion, and stressed the importance of involving the community in the budget process. The school board will take its next step toward finalizing the budget on Feb. 9, when it must approve the preliminary budget a second time.

The board also heard an update on the Panorama Village building project, which is set to enter the second phase of renovations. SCASD Director of Physical Plant told the board that bids for the renovations came in significantly lower than predicted.

Though the project was projected to cost $1.7 million dollars, the bids came in at under $1.3 million, Poprik says. That may allow the district to undertake $300,000 in additional renovations that were considered an optional part of the project.

Once renovated, the Panorama Village building will offer flexible space to house various district offices and employees who are displaced by the high school renovations. The Panorama building will also house functions currently located in the College Heights School building, which the district is in the process of selling to Penn State.

The board will vote on which bid to accept for the Panorama Village project at its Jan. 26 meeting.

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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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