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Northampton Area passes budget, with smaller-than-planned tax hike

Residents in the Northampton Area School District will see an increase in taxes for next year, but not as high as earlier projected.The school board voted 9-0 Monday to go with a 1.97% tax increase to fund its 2019-20 budget, rather than the 2.69% jump that was on the table in early May.The tax hike results in an increase of 1.06 mills, meaning a taxpayer at the average property assessment in the district of $60,000 will pay $63.61 more next year in taxes.The board began formulating the budget in January by voting in favor of a 3.79% increase, which would have resulted in a $121 tax hike for the average property owner.“Since January we have reduced the budget by $1.1 million,” Superintendent Joseph Kovalchik said.The result is a $1.173 million increase to the general fund budget of $110.5 million for next year, he said.The district was able to reduce the increase after finding $182,660 in health care savings due to fewer claims than expected and because many employees opted to use their spouse’s employee plans rather than the district’s.Northampton also can move forward at a 1.97% increase without cuts to programs or staff because of an anticipated $366,285 increase in funding from the state, which Kovalchik said is earmarked for the general fund.“We’re not necessarily enhancing programs, we’re staying status quo, but we’re not reducing,” he said.Should the district receive the full amount, the entire increase would go toward balancing the fund, he said.The tax hike helps the district cope with increases in outlays for retirement benefits, special education costs and funding for charter and cyberschools, Kovalchik said.Projections have the district paying $851,000 more toward retirement obligations next year, $14.7 million overall, along with an increase of $850,000 toward special education to take it to $17 million overall, and $350,000 more to pay for charter and cyberschools, for a total of $3.6 million.Kovalchik is expecting $14.1 million in basic education funding and $2.9 million for special education from the state.The district will have enough in its coffers to replace 10 retirees at the end of the school year and to hire an additional math teacher for the high school, Kovalchik said.The district also plans about $3 million for partial roof replacements at Siegfried Elementary and Northampton High School through the $35 million borrowing plan for the new Lehigh Elementary School, Kovalchik said, with work at both schools beginning this week.A portion of $5 million in savings from when the Northampton Middle School project came in under budget was also applied to the roof work, Kovalchik said.Kevin Duffy is a freelance writer for The Morning Call.
Source: Morningcall

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