Question for districts: To tax ... or tax higher

Alyssa Pressler
  • The average school property tax caps from the state department of education increased slightly this year.
  • York Suburban is already exploring what a tax increase of 2.5 percent could do to close their budget gap.

Pennsylvania school districts don't have to finalize their budgets until the end of June, but most are already busy working on rough drafts.

That's because they have to notify the state Department of Education in the next two weeks whether they intend to stay within their state-assigned tax cap or if they might seek permission to hike taxes even higher.

Each year the Education Department assigns individual tax caps for every Pennsylvania school district. That doesn't mean districts will raise taxes by that percent — only that they can't exceed that figure without without asking for either state or voter approval.

School districts must notify the department by Jan. 26 whether they intend to work within their assigned caps or if they might need a steeper tax hike, which would require an exception from the department or voter approval through referendum.

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The average cap increase in York County was slight: In the 2016-15 school year the average tax cap was 3 percent, but for the 2017-18 year, that number increased to 3.2 percent, according the state education department.

School budgets 101

Each local school district saw an increase on their tax cap, varying between .1 percent and .2 percent, typically. The highest increase was for West Shore School District, which went from 2.4 percent in 2016-17 to 2.9 percent for 2017-18.

According to the Department of Education, these caps are reached by averaging the increases in the average weekly wage across the state and the federal employment cost index for elementary and secondary schools, which measures the cost of employing school personnel.

When these costs increase, so does the tax cap for each district.

The tax caps vary for each district, and all are listed below. York Suburban has the lowest tax cap for the upcoming school year at 2.5 percent. The district is already discussing increasing taxes up to that amount to help close a $2.4 million gap in their budget.

At a public meeting about the state of the district and the future budget, finance director Corrine Mason suggested raising taxes to that cap to close the gap. She also said other options should be explored.

York Suburban seeks solutions for $2 million budget gap

For a home valued at $155,000, the average for York Suburban, a 2.5 percent increase would add $82 to the homeowner's tax bill.

The highest tax cap belongs to York City School District, which can increase their taxes up to 4 percent without an exception or voter approval. However, the district has gone four years without a tax increase and has managed to increase its fund balance, which is comparable to a savings account for unforeseen or emergency circumstances.

The district business office did not respond to a request to comment on taxes for the upcoming year.

No tax increase from York City Schools

For Wolf, next 2 years may be more difficult than first 2

Tax cap information per district in York County: 

Central York SD: 3.2%
Dallastown Area SD: 3.2%
Dover Area SD: 3.4%
Eastern York SD: 3.2%
Hanover Public SD: 3.2%
Northeastern York SD: 3.4%
Northern York County SD: 3.1%
Red Lion Area SD: 3.3%
South Eastern SD: 3.2%
South Western SD: 3.1%
Southern York County SD: 3.1%
Spring Grove Area SD: 3.2%
West Shore SD: 2.9%
West York Area SD: 3.2%
York City SD: 4.0%
York Suburban SD: 2.5%