After a lively public comment session, the Council Rock School Board approved 5-4 a $201.8 million budget for the 2012-2013 fiscal year on Thursday night.
The approved budget will raise taxes 1.7 percent, which is about $70 more a year for the average homeowner in the district.
Several district residents opened the meeting’s public comment session voicing their concern over the proposed tax increase and asking why the extra money needed for the new budget is not being taken from the district’s reserve fund. The fund is filled with more than $25 million dollars.
A Washington Crossing resident told the board she believed they should draw from the reserve fund to fill the budget gap—about $2.3 million—that could not be closed with revenues brought in by the current tax rate. She added the reserve fund is so bloated because the taxpayers were over taxed in previous years.
Several other residents also spoke out saying they felt money from the reserve fund should be used as apposed to a tax increase.
District officials at the meeting told the audience some of the reserve funds are being used to cover a budget gap from last fiscal year and are expected to be used to pay for the district’s future contributions to the Pennsylvania School Employees Retirement System.
The district’s contribution to the state plan is expected to grow to more than $28 million by the 2016-2017, according to Robert Reinhart, Council Rock’s director of business administration.
Board Vice President Wendi Thomas, who voted no to the budget, said she would rather pull from the reserves than raise taxes.
“It’s not with any joy I’ll vote for a tax increase,” she said.
The 1.7 percent increase is the maximum amount allowed under the state’s Act 1. However, Reinhart said the district could have always filed for an exemption to Act 1 with the state if they felt a large tax increase was needed to help raise tax revenue for the district.
The district has lost tax income due to the economic problems that have swept the nation in the past several years and, according to board member Dr. Bill Foster, due to decreasing funding to the district by the state goverment.
Reinhart told the board the district has cut costs by $900,000 and was always working to save money where it can.
Wrightstown resident Le Sheppard voiced how great it was that community members came to discuss the budget, but they should have attended the meetings while the district was planning the budget and not just for the voting meeting.
Superintendent Mark Klein said residents are always encouraged to be a part of the district’s budgeting process and budget information can be found on the district’s website.
Last year, school district taxes were not raised, according to officials.