State caps on York County school district tax increases fall second year in a row

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Some York County school districts could see tax hikes as high as 3.1 or 3.7 percent next year if their boards vote on raising taxes to the state's tax cap.

The cap is different for every district — adjusted each year based on their relative wealth — but that doesn't mean school boards will choose to raise taxes by that amount. 

York City School District, for example, has not raised taxes since current Superintendent Eric Holmes was appointed in 2013, according to a news release, despite typically having the highest tax cap of the county's 16 districts.

Those figures fell for the second year in a row, dropping about 1 percent in most York County districts, but school boards have about a month to decide if they will seek to raise district taxes above their state cap — which is also known as the Act 1 index.

The index, released by the state Department of Education, is the highest percentage increase of property taxes allowed in each school district without filing for voter referendum or exceptions through the department.

District boards must either pass a resolution to not go above the index for the 2019-20 school year or post a proposed preliminary budget — which may or may not include a tax increase — by Jan. 31.

2019-20: This year, the state's base index is 2.3 percent, according to a notice from Education Secretary Pedro Rivera.

Most districts in York County received an adjusted index of 2.9 percent — Southern York County, South Western, Northern York County, Central York, South Eastern and Spring Grove Area — or 3 percent — Dallastown Area, West York Area, Hanover Public and Eastern York.

West Shore and York Suburban received the lowest, at 2.6 and 2.7 percent, respectively. York City has the highest, at 3.7 percent.

Red Lion Area, Northeastern York and Dover Area also came in slightly higher, at 3.1 percent.

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

How it works: The base index is determined by averaging the percentage increases in the statewide average weekly wage and the employment cost index, according to the education department.

The employee cost index, prepared by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, measures the cost of employing personnel at elementary and secondary schools. 

A district's relative wealth — market value and income — in relation to the state average for each pupil in the district is marked by a market value/personal income aid ratio, and if that ratio is higher than 0.40, the base is multiplied by that value and 0.75 to determine an adjusted index, the department states.

Timeline: If a district chooses to raise taxes above the index, its board must adopt a preliminary budget by Feb. 20.

To go above the index, districts need to submit a referendum question for voter approval to the county board of elections, unless they are filing for state-approved exceptions through the education department. Exceptions are allowed for such expenses as rising health care costs and special education funding.

More:York County school districts against statewide income tax collection

Districts must notify the public of their intent to seek exceptions by Feb. 28 and submit a request to the department by March 7. The deadline to submit a referendum question is March 22.

Trends: The majority of districts have indexes that decreased from the current school year to the 2019-20 school year, with 14 out of 16 districts seeing a dip.

In the previous year, all districts but York City also saw a decrease from the year before, but that followed two years of increases from 2015-16 to 2016-17 and 2016-17 to 2017-18.

More:How high could your property taxes go up? Districts receive new state caps

A complete retrospective covering Act 1 indexes from 2015-16 through 2019-20, drawn from data on the department's website, is listed below.