AP NEWS

Somerset school holds the line on property tax

May 14, 2019

Taxpayers in the Somerset Area School District can breathe a sigh of relief.

During a meeting Monday night, the school board unanimously passed a tentative $39.8 million 2019-20 school year budget that keeps the tax rate at 41.7 mills. The spending plan has projected revenues of just under $38 million.

The district has about $10.8 million in total fund reserves.

District operations and finance director Leanne Heiple said that although the budget appears to have a deficit, the plan is balanced. Heiple said that when crafting the plan, administrators budget conservatively and can bring down costs by the year’s end.

She used the current school year as an example: There was a projected $1.6 million shortfall, but now the district is on course to come out about $400,000 in the black.

“We fully expect to come in with a balanced budget next or better,” she said.

Superintendent Krista Mathias said that to keep costs in order, officials did not replace the positions of some staff members who had retired.

“It took a lot of work,” Mathias said. “I just need to commend all of our district employees for being extremely conservative in their requests.”

Heiple said that the 2019-20 budget is on par with other years and that “nothing sticks out.” She did not note any upcoming large projects or one-time expenditures in the plan.

Board President Randy Welker said he is proud to avoid a tax increase. Welker praised his administrators.

“Thanks to the hard work of Leanne and Krista, they made the board’s job a lot easier,” he said. “It’s the leadership sitting here at this table that makes our job easier.”

The last time the district increased the millage was in the 2015-16 year when the tax rate rose by 2.2 mills. The board is set to finalize the plan in June. It cannot add a tax increase after the fact.

During Monday’s meeting the board also voted to change the process for tax exoneration status for senior citizens and disabled residents. Heiple said that previously residents had to file every year for tax exoneration status. Now, they only have to file once. The age for retired exoneration has also been lowered to 70, she said.

“That’s a good thing for our retired people,” she said. “It should make their lives easier come tax time.”