York Suburban passes budget with tax increase

Alyssa Pressler
  • York Suburban's 2016-17 budget includes a 2.4 percent tax increase over the 2015-16 budget.
  • The General Operating Fund Budget was approved at $53.2 million

York Suburban's school board approved a budget of $53.2 million for the 2016-17 school year in a 7-2 vote last week — a spending plan that will include a 2.4 percent tax increase for district residents.

The $53.3 million budget is a $2.1 million increase from the $51.2 million that was approved in the 2015-16 budget last year. The tax increase will put the district at 22.4 mills, an increase from 21.9 mills.

Not everyone on the board was happy with the budget at the meeting. Board President Lynne Leopold-Sharp said two members voted "no" to the budget: Ellen Freireich and Richard Robinson.

Freireich explained that while she is "very much in favor of the expenditure side of the budget," she wished the board had explored different options available for revenue.

She was referring to York Suburban applying for an exception for its Public School Employees' Retirement System (PSERS) account, which would have allowed the district to raise taxes above the 2.4 percent the  board finally agreed on.

According to Act 1, which was passed in 2006, school districts need to seek voter approval for tax increases greater than the Act 1 index, which for York Suburban School District this year is 2.4 percent. Schools can apply for an exception, allowing them to raise taxes above the index to help finance increases in certain expenditures, including pension costs.

The school district was approved for the exception, and Freireich was in favor of a tax increase rather than drawing funds from the health insurance premiums. The district approved a holiday on health premiums because it had a large fund balance for health care.

"It would have raised taxes a little bit more, I understand that, but given that the vast majority of our constituents want us to maintain our programs and maintain small class sizes, I thought they would be in favor," Freireich said.

Robinson agreed with Freireich, explaining that he felt a more conservative approach would have been to raise taxes slightly more. He said he is concerned about the state budget passing on time and felt the school should have turned to more certain financing areas, though he believes overall that the state should be more responsible for supporting education at all districts.

"I would have supported a slight increase (in taxes) that was manageable and wasn't a threat to people's welfare," Robinson said. "Nobody likes to pay taxes; I don't like it as much as the next guy. The one thing I will say: At least with the taxes that we pay in the district, we have a much better idea of where the money is going and how it's being used."

Leopold-Sharp said that last month the board discussed raising the tax rate to 3.2 percent, thus taking advantage of the exception allotted by the state Department of Education, but the board felt it had reached a balanced budget through other financing options.

Leopold-Sharp also said the budget did not cut any teachers or programs but added six new positions that had been cut in previous years. She attributed this to the additional money the district expects to see from the fair funding formula signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf earlier this month. Leopold-Sharp explained that the overall increase in the budget comes from its general expenditures, and nothing specific drove the increase.

"I think we have a good budget and a strong budget," Freireich said. "I will certainly support what the board has decided to do. And now we'll move on and wait for what the new year will bring."