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UPSD Holds Line on Taxes in 2021-22 Budget
Written by Bradley Schlegel, Staff Writer

            Despite the need to cover a significant deficit, Upper Perkiomen's School Board voted last week to approve the 2021-22 budget that holds the line on taxes. The 6-3 vote maintains a 25.2278 millage rate for property owners.

            Judith Maginnis, Peg Pennepacker and Dana Hipszer voted against the action item on the $71.278 million budget. All three described the decision not to raise taxes as lacking fiscal responsibility. Maginnis argued prior to the June 17 vote that a tax hike was necessary to help pay for improvements in the district.

            "I don't want to pay more taxes," said Maginnis, who pointed out that during her 3 1/2 years on the board the district's eight percent increase in revenue has failed to keep up with a 19 percent growth in expenses. "But we have a responsibility to improve this district and doing that costs money."

            Keith McCarrick offered a motion to adjust the language of the action item listed on the regular meeting agenda, which called for a two percent tax increase. Raeann Hofkin seconded it.

            By approving a zero percent tax increase, the board rejected the advice of retiring Business Administrator Sandra Kassel and agreed to utilize $4.729 million -- more than half the district's unreserved fund balance of approximately $9 million -- to cover a projected shortfall.

            In May during a Finance Committee meeting, she recommended that the board approve a 3.7 percent tax increase - the highest amount permitted by state law - to maintain the district's financial health.

            Prior to the vote, multiple members of the majority acknowledged the concerns of the dissenters. However, McCarrick, Mike Elliot, Kerry Drake and Stephen Cunningham said this was not the time to approve a tax hike due to conditions created by the novel coronavirus pandemic. Cunningham argued that the board's responsibility included looking out for the best interest of the residents. People are hurting, according to Drake. 

            "I've been saying from the start that this is not the year to raise taxes," McCarrick said.

            Citing past history, Drake, McCarrick, Elliot and Hofkin expressed confidence that the district will end the upcoming school year with a surplus. According to Elliot, it has averaged a $1.6 surplus over the last seven years.

 "This is the year we can get away with [not raising taxes]," he said. "We have some money tucked away. This is the year to keep [the rate] in line."

            Board President Melanie Cunningham agreed with Elliot, saying that she thought the district would "be fine" without a tax increase. Hofkin recommended that the board should approve a 10 percent rebate to property owners.

            However, Pennepacker said she "felt unsettled" by the idea of not implementing a tax increase. She worried how it might impact the district's financial future. She implored her colleagues to utilize data driven decisions to meet the needs of the district.  "I think being fiscally responsible does not necessarily mean not raising taxes," Pennepacker said.

            Maginnis agreed with Pennepacker's reasoning. Hipszer said he didn't see a zero tax increase as feasible. He said the board could be setting itself up to approve a larger tax increase or cut programs two or three years down the road.  "We can't rely on revenue that may or may not materialize," Hipszer said.






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