SHARON – Sharon City School Board will consider a preliminary 2021-22 budget Tuesday to keep open the option to raise property taxes beyond the state inflation index.

"Adopting a preliminary budget gives us the most options available so that if we have to raise real estate taxes, it gives us the option to apply," said Tresa Templeton, the district's business manager. "There are so many unknowns at this time."

At the district's work session Monday, Templeton stressed to the board that the budget is "very preliminary."

Under state regulations, school boards in Pennsylvania have to adopt a final budget by the fiscal year end June 30. But districts have to get voter approval in the May primary if they want to increase taxes by more than the inflation index, which is 3.0%.

This means districts have to either declare plans to keep possible tax increases below the index or their intention to seek a budget referendum by the filing deadline in February.

Districts can seek exemptions that would allow them to increase taxes beyond the index for specific purposes, such as capital expenditures or increased special education costs. Exemption requests have to be filed with the state Department of Education.

The department would then determine if the school district’s budget qualified for an exemption from the tax index.

Templeton did not say whether the district is likely to face a large budget gap for 2021-22.

Last year, the district fought to fill in a gap of $2.5 million with a total budget of $39,266,600 for 2020-21. Instead of raising taxes, the board ultimately voted to furlough teachers.

The district cut 4.5 positions in the middle-high school, with furloughs from the chemistry, biology, special education, part-time health and physical education, and technology departments. One elementary school teacher also was furloughed.

The middle school's Engineering by Design program also was "altered or curtailed." 

When preparing the 2020-21 budget, the board kept the real estate tax millage at the same rate of 80.01 mills. The inflation index would allow Sharon to increase taxes this year by a little more than 2.4 mills.

At 80.01 mills, the owner of a property with an assessed value of $10,000 would have a tax bill of about $800. Property is assessed at values from the early 1970s, the last time Mercer County performed an comprehensive reappraisal.

Last spring, the district had received special permission to increase taxes beyond the state inflation index amount because special-education costs increased by almost $1 million from 2018-19 to 2020-21.

"I cannot stress this enough – the budget is very preliminary," Templeton said. "There's too many questions at this point in time. We'll submit it to the state and we'll be making changes and tweaking it for the next couple of months."

Follow Melissa Klaric on Twitter and Facebook @HeraldKlaric, email: mklaric@sharonherald.com

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