Phoenixville’s draft $103M budget calls for 1.3% tax hike

PHOENIXVILLE — Property taxes would rise by 1.3 percent under the $103.6 million draft budget reviewed by the Phoenixville School Board at the Feb. 28 meeting.

Things are likely to change somewhat, as they often do, before the final budget is adopted, which is scheduled for May 23.

The update, provided by Director of Finance Jeremy Melber, indicated that despite adding 7.5 staff positions from the previous draft, the proposed tax hike has dropped from the 1.42 percent last presented and far below the 3.4 hike the state-imposed tax cap would allow.

The tax hike would close a $892,919 gap between projected revenues and expenditures.

At present, the Phoenixville School District’s draft budget calls for a tax hike of 1.3%.(Image by Phoenixville School District)

If enacted unchanged, said Melber, the budget would represent a .42 mill tax hike. The median assessment in the Phoenixville Area School District is $138,970, which represents a market value of about $308,000. For that property owner, the draft budget presented would increase the annual tax bill by $58.36, he said.

Some of the factors affecting the potential increase include an anticipated 6 percent increase in health insurance costs, with works out to $492,000 more than the current year; a $604,000 increase in pension costs; an increase in vo-tech enrollment, which comes with a $109,000 price tag and a 3.2 percent, or $176,000, increase in charter school tuition, even though the district has seen no increase in charter school enrollments.

Jeremy Melber, finance director for the Phoenixville School District, said several factors are affecting the increase in expenses.(Image by Phoenixville School District)

Special education costs are also expected to rise due to more children being identified as needing special education services, and the addition of an early intervention program, said Melber.

Several board members, including Scott Overland, questioned why the budget proposal makes no use of the $7 million fund balance the school district’s coffers now enjoy.

“I realize it’s a low increase, but with such a large reserve from last year, I feel like we should try to keep any tax hike as low as possible,” Overland said.

The area of this chart that are neither blue nor orange are the “discretionary” parts of the Pheonixville Schools budget.(Image by Phoenixville School District)

Board member Ayisha Sereni and Betsey Ruch asked for more detailed information about those portions of the budget which are not mandated, about $25,000. “There are three things we do, set policy, approve the budget and hire the superintendent, so the budget is where we should be putting a lot of our attention,” Sereni said.

Ruch, who was appointed in November and had served previously for many years on the board, said “this is just a summary. I think we’d like to know a little more about what we’re paying for.”

Another former board member, Lisa Longo, said “in a year with a $7 million surplus, I have not heard a word about taxpayer assistance. We have people who lost their homes in the pandemic.” She noted a voluntary program to offer tax relief for seniors was discussed when she was on the board, but was never enacted.

Longo said rather than start with revenues, the budget should begin with the student population “and that determines how many classrooms you’ll need and what your salaries will be.”

“If you don’t want more information about this budget, than you should step down from this board,” said resident John Mraz.

According to the schedule provided by Melber, the preliminary budget will be presented for adoption at the March 28 meeting. A budget town hall for the public is scheduled for April 6 and on April 18, the adoption of the proposed final budget is anticipated. After being open for public inspection for the required time, the adoption of the final budget is scheduled for May 23.

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