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“You’re not going to want to hear my answer”
Written by Bradley Schlegel, Staff Writer

UPSD Business Administrator Recommends 3.7 Percent Tax Increase


            Upper Perkiomen's business administrator alerted members of the district's Finance Committee to the risk of approving the 2021-22 budget without a tax increase. Earlier this week, Sandy Kassel described a proposal to transfer $4.5 million to cover a shortfall as extremely dangerous. Kassel told the members that a transfer would consume the district's fund balance.

            "We've never budgeted anything close to that level of fund balance need," she said during the May 3 meeting, hosted on Zoom.

            Kassel also recommended that the school board approve a 3.7 percent tax hike, the highest allowed by the state index, which would require a $3.1 million transfer to cover a projected shortfall. At that rate, the median assessed value in Montgomery County would increase by $149.94. Values in Berks County would go up by $116.99.

            The business administrator offered her proposal in response to a question from Peg Pennepacker, a member of the committee and the school board.

            "You're not going to want to hear my answer," Kassel said, according to a video of the meeting posted on the district's YouTube page.

            The school board is expected to vote on the proposed final budget, which totals $70.431 million, during the May 13 regular meeting. During the committee meeting, Board President Melanie Cunningham said she wanted the tax increase to be zero. Pennepacker discussed the possibility of approving a tax hike and the need to inform the public of its importance.

            "The last thing we want to do is raise taxes," she said. "But if we're pushed to the point of having to do it, we need to start a dialogue with the public. We have to be as transparent as possible. I'm not trying to deflect the blame. We need to be transparent about the things that are going on and what we need to pay for. We're still paying for a new middle school, and we need to fund full-day kindergarten."

            Member Keith McCarrick concurred, saying that the members will have to raise taxes if it's necessary. He admitted, however, that the public won't be happy with the decision.

            Additionally, Pennepacker said the district continues to pay for actions taken in the past. She cited the issues and cost related to mold removal that occurred three years ago at the high school. The school board member absolved everyone at the meeting.

            "This will make me the most hated person on this meeting and beyond," Pennepacker said. "But I keep coming back to that. Some of those decisions are killing us."

            Kassel said she would prefer a tax rate that might further reduce the amount required to transfer from the district's reserve account to cover the shortfall. However, she expressed concern that a $3.1 million transfer could prevent the completion of necessary projects.

            Next year's proposed budget includes $1.008 million in new expenses to fund the addition of 12 new staff positions and $817,770 in new contract expenditures. Transportation covers approximately half of the contractual obligations, according to Kassel.

            There's not a lot of leeway in the budget, unless the board reduces programming, increases class size and does not replace individuals who leave," she said.







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