Boyertown school budget will raise taxes 5.4%, per capita tax reinstated

BOYERTOWN >> With a 6-3 vote Tuesday, the Boyertown Area School Board approved a $118 million final budget that raises property taxes by 5.4 percent.

Board members Ruth Dierolf, Christine Neiman and Clay Breece voted against the budget adoption.

With a 7-2 vote, the board also undertook a last-minute rescue of the $14.70 per capita tax, which was scheduled to disappear on July 1.

And a unanimous board vote approved a one-year contract with the district’s teachers union that includes $1,500 raises and will add more than $1.2 million to the new budget.


Twitter Recap: All About the Money in Boyertown School District

In comments before his vote, Breece chided the district for not working harder, putting in more meetings, to try to lower the tax increase.

In February, when the board took its first vote on the budget, the tax hike was forecast at 5.44 percent, and little has changed since then, he said.

Calling public schools “a government monopoly,” Breece said “the plan of some school board directors is simply to raise taxes.”

“We don’t have anybody here who wants to make tough decisions. I don’t think most of the people here would know a tough decision if it was staring them in the face,” he said. “And they will raise taxes again if we keep electing the same people.”

Although none of the board members responded to Breece’s comments directly, resident Jon Emeigh did during the public comment period.

He said Boyertown has followed a pattern of adopting budgets with “ill-advised” zero tax hikes that ultimately have to made up with larger hikes in later years to fill the resulting revenue shortfall.

“This relentless focus on the bottom line paradoxically makes you spend more money,” he said, opining that the reason the 33-year-old stadium at the high school “is falling down is because of this drive to cut costs and maintenance is always an easy thing to cut.”

“If you continue to cheap out on our kids’ education, you will continue to cost this community money,” Emeigh said. “You don’t help seniors on fixed incomes on the backs of our children, it will destroy this community.”

School Board President Donna Usavage noted that over the past 10 years, the average Boyertown tax hike has matched the state tax ceiling known as the Act 1 Index. This is despite the fact that increased costs for the state retirement system and increases in special education programs were not covered by the increased revenue from the tax hikes allowed by the state.

As for the matter of the per capita tax, which is levied on every person older than 18 who lives in the district, Dierolf said she has tried to bring up the matter three times previously.

The tax was set to sunset after July 1 as the result of a resolution passed by the school board in October 2013.

District Solicitor Jeff Sultanik informed the board that once July 1 has passed, the only way to bring back the per capita tax would be to hold a district-wide referendum.

Breece, who joined Usavage in casting the only two votes to let the tax die, said that is exactly what the board should do.

“Let the people vote on it and this board will get a lesson in civics,” said Breece. “This thing will go down like a Japanese Zero into one of those aircraft carriers during World War II. As a conservative, I’m not going to vote to raise taxes,” he said.

Dierolf, in a rare example of disagreement between the two, said “we’re not raising taxes. We’ve been collecting the per capita tax continuously since 2013.”

Several board members, including Jill Dennin and Brandon Foose, seemed on the fence about keeping the tax alive, largely because the cost of collecting it consumes roughly 40 percent of what it generates.

“It’s a nuisance tax,” said Usavage.

Board Vice President Steve Elsier said the district nets about $160,000 from the tax after the cost of collecting it is extracted.

“It may be prudent to keep the per capita tax from going away,” Elsier said, citing looming safety and security improvements to the schools “and the fact that we don’t have a state budget yet.”

On Tuesday, the board voted unanimously to spend $355,649 on the first phase of those security improvements, with more discussion to come.

Breece said he is looking forward to those discussions, when he intends to suggest that the district make use of veterans and retired and off-duty police officers to be armed guards that patrol the halls of the district’s school buildings.

The other significant budget-related vote taken by the board Tuesday night was to unanimously approve a one-year contract with the teachers union, the Boyertown Education Association.

The agreement includes pay raises for teachers and will increase expenses for the district by $1,220,186.

Highlights of the approved contract include:

• A $1,500 increase to the salary schedule for each step and educational attainment level during the 2018-2019 school year. The salary increase will be effective with the fourth pay period in the 2018-2019 school year.

• There will be no step movement for the 2018-2019 school year.

• Salary schedule movement for Boyertown Area Education Association members who have achieved and been approved for educational attainment would become effective with the first pay of the 2018-2019 school year.

• There will be no change in benefits.