'MOdest' tax hike for Exeter residents

Exeter Township's School Board has given final approval to a budget for the 2012-2013 school year that will increase taxes for residents by .40 percent. The board approved a $63.05 million budget at its meeting June 19. The vote was 6 to 3, as board members wrestled with issues surrounding decreased state funding to school districts, rapidly rising district pension contributions to the Public School Employees' Retirement System and payments to charter schools.

The budget will increase property taxes for residents to 30.1031 mills, up from the current 29.982 mills. That translates to an increase of about $13 per year, or an annual tax rate of $3,214 for every $106,771 of property assessed valuation in the township.

Board members Andrew Yawger, Dr. Kathleen Muzevich and Patricia O'Brien-Pieja voted against the budget and the tax increase, saying the district cannot tax its way out of the situation that is being created.

'To balance what we have to do to provide for the education and be responsible fiscally to the people we serve – it's not an easy choice,' Yawger said. 'The state is going to have to deal with 500 school districts going bankrupt in the very near future.'

'I'd hate to leave the fate of my child or any child in this community in the hands of the state, because I just don't trust that they would do the right thing,' said School Superintendent Dr. Beverly Martin. 'So if we don't do it, I don't trust that the state will do it – I wish I could.'

Since approving a preliminary budget in January, the board has trimmed an estimated $1.8 million from the original deficit of $2.5 million. Some of the savings came from an early retirement incentive for teachers, a teacher salary freeze and an administration salary freeze.

O'Brien-Pieja said Governor Tom Corbett needs to properly fund the school districts. 'I think we send the wrong message when we cover his mistakes, He is not living up to his responsibility,' she said.

Board member Russell Diesinger said, 'This is about our kids and our community, and I don't want to send a message to anybody based on the backs of those kids.'

'My concern is that even with this minimal increase we are still the third highest district in the county as far as taxes are concerned. Next year's not going to be any easier, and I don't think we can continue to put this on the backs of our taxpayers,' Muzevich said.

One of the issues the board has discussed during this budget cycle is the dramatic increase in the district's contribution to the State Public School Employees' Retirement System – a contribution the district is required to make. The district's financial commitment is projected to increase from the current level of 8.65 percent of the district's wages to 25.56 percent in the 2015-2016 school year – an additional $2,799.153 over a four year period.

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