WEST MIDDLESEX — With passage of a final 2019-20 budget is still months away, West Middlesex Area School District officials are working now to compile a final spending plan and avoid raising taxes.

The state Department of Education set West Middlesex’s inflation index at 2.3 percent. Under state law, the district could increase property taxes by that figure, to a maximum of 68.3644 mills, without submitting the budget to a referendum or seeking exceptions to the inflation increase.

West Middlesex has already passed a resolution not to increase beyond that figure in 2019-20, but Business Manager James Hughes said the administration and board are working to avoid raising taxes at all.

“We’ll look for places we can make cuts during budget season, but we’ll be looking at possible cuts all year too,” Hughes said.

The key issue, he said, is that the district’s revenues have remained consistent, while expenses are increasing.

“There hasn’t been much housing development and very few businesses coming into the area, so that’s always stayed pretty steady over the years,” Hughes said at Monday night’s meeting.

The school district expects to receive about $30,000 in state funds for general education and about $20,000 for special education, though officials won’t know the exact figure until June, when the state passes its budget.

Superintendent Raymond Omer said such estimates may not be accurate to the funds actually available for schools.

“We’re told we may get “x” amount of funds for the school year, but then actually receive less then that,” Omer said. “We have to budget in case we don’t receive that amount.”

However, school officials will face some other difficulties as they move forward with planning the next school year’s budget, including decreasing student enrollment.

During the 2017-18 school year, West Middlesex’s enrollment was 856 students. This year, the figure had decreased to 823, and projections for next year call for a decrease of one student in 2019-20.

Another challenge faced by school officials is the continued increase of the district’s pension contributions through the Pennsylvania School Employee Retirement System, or PSERS.

The increases first began in 2006-07, when the required PSERS contribution was about $394,188. The contribution increased to 33.43 percent of payroll, or $2,237,364 in 2018-19. Next year, that figure is expected to be 34.29 percent.

A preliminary budget for 2019-2020 is expected to be presented to be presented to the school board in May, with a final vote on the budget to be held at its meeting on June 24.

Like David L. Dye on Facebook or email him at ddye@sharonherald.com.

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