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UP School Board Approves Smaller Tax Increase
Written by Bradley Schlegel, Staff Writer

            The Upper Perkiomen School Board approved the final 2018-19 budget last week with a smaller tax increase for property owners than previously forecast. By a 6-3 vote, the members ratified a 0.79 millage rate increase, which equates to a two percent tax hike. Vice President Mike Elliot, Joan Smith and Dr. John Farris opposed the motion during the June 14 workshop meeting. 

            Smith and Farris cast the lone votes in favor of a previous motion that called for a 2.9 millage rate increase. Elliot and Judith McGinnis voted with the majority, but both told the audience they would have preferred a rate somewhere in between.

            "This is a tough call," McGinnis said.

            Member Stephen Cunningham made the motion to approve the lower millage rate hike, which imposes a $74.56 increase on the median property owner in Montgomery County and a $57.66 increase on the median property owner in Berks County. After the meeting Cunningham said he favored the lower rate over the 2.9 millage rate increase that would have added $154.09 and $119.43 to the bill of taxpayers in Montgomery and Berks Counties respectively, as a way to soften the blow for taxpayers.

            The final budget calls for transferring   $1.902 million from the general fund to balance the budget. Cunningham and Raeann Hofkin expressed support for tapping into the reserve fund, which they both estimated at approximately $14 million.

            "We have $14 million in the bank," said Hofkin, who added that she would not support any tax hikes over two percent. "We are good."

            According to Cunningham, the additional funds will be enough to cover all the board's needs and additional projects. Responding to a question from another board member, he said he didn't believe a two-percent tax hike was "squeezing the lemon."

            "If I wanted to do that, I would have chosen a zero millage rate increase," Cunningham said.

            After the meeting, Cunningham explained that the board is working towards tightening its budgeting process. He said district officials have been overestimating its expenses and underestimating its revenue for several years. "We are not going to do things that are not necessary," Cunningham said.

In May the board approved a 2.9 millage rate increase, a 4.14 percent tax hike, as part of the budget's preliminary approval.

            Sandra Kassel, the district's Business Administrator, recommended that rate to the board. She told the members previously that the additional funds would be necessary to help cover a growing debt service related to the construction of the new middle school.

            Following last week's meeting, Kassel could not confirm the total amount of the district's reserve fund.

"Our financial reports each month show what is in all the funds including the general fund," she wrote in a text three days after the meeting. "What I can't tell you is how much will be left after the fiscal year is over."





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