Bethel Park School Board

Bethel Park School Board: front, from left, Connie Ruhl, Jim Modrak (vice president), Pam Dobos (president), Kim Walsh Turner; back, Russ Spicuzza, Barry Christenson, Vince Scalzo, Ken Nagel and Darren McGregor.

Bethel Park School Board approved a .7654-mill real estate tax increase to accompany the adoption of a $91.7 million budget for 2020-21.

On Tuesday, the board voted unanimously for the new tax rate, and two members, Connie Ruhl and Russ Spicuzza, opposed the budget. The increase means an owner of property valued at $100,000 will pay an extra $76.54 in the coming year.

The new rate is 21.7654, representing a 3.65% increase over 2019-20. Going into the current fiscal year, the board voted to lower the millage from 22.8763 to 21.

A referendum asking voters’ permission to raise the 2020-21 rate above the inflation index set for the district by the state – 3.1%, plus an exception for special education costs – had been scheduled for the primary election. But the school board decided to remove the ballot question because of hardships caused by COVID-19.

To balance the coming year’s budget, the district plans to use $5.49 million of its unreserved fund balance, the amount by which expenditures are anticipated to exceed revenues.

Barry Christenson, who chairs the school board’s finance committee, attributed the disparity primarily to an ever-rising amount for outlays, including those related to contractual obligations.

“Even though we got a very small exception,” he said about the index’s special-education allowance, “we’ve raised taxes barely enough to cover the increase in costs, let alone any increase in investments for new initiatives. I mean, that’s totally off the table for now and the next few years.”

He commended the work of district administrators – particularly director of finance, operations and human resources Leonard Corazzi, who is retiring – in the developing the spending plan.

“Overall, this is an accurate budget. But I don’t think it looks good going forward over the next couple of years,” explaining some sources of revenue probably will decline. “The request to the administration and everybody across the district is: We need to work harder to continue to reduce costs moving forward.”

The budget lists total expenditures for instruction at $56.84 million, an amount that represents 62% of the total.

Along with setting the real estate tax rate for 2020-21, the board also approved a 0.5% real property transfer tax, 0.5% earned income tax, and mechanical amusement tax of $50 per jukebox and $100 for other mechanical amusement devices. None of the latter changes from last year.

Real estate taxes are expected to bring in nearly $52.5 million, about 60% of total revenues.

Multimedia Reporter

Staff writer Harry Funk, a professional journalist for three-plus decades, has been on the staff of The Almanac since 2015. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and master of business administration, both from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

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