The Erie School Board has approved a 4.45% tax increase.
By a 5-4 vote Wednesday night, the board passed the increase as part of its more than $250 million budget for 2022-23, effective July 1.
The tax hike initially appeared to fail after the board voted 4-4 to approve it, with the tie dooming the budget resolution.
Then school principal Leatra Tate joined the meeting remotely after losing her connection just as the council was voting on the budget.
The Tate voted to approve the budget with the 4.45% tax increase.
She was the only school board member to attend the regular monthly board meeting remotely, at East Middle School.
The 4.45% tax hike will increase school property taxes by $78.85 for the owner of a home valued at $100,000. The increase will generate approximately $2.3 million in additional revenue in 2022-23.
Ready to vote:To counter pandemic woes, Erie school board plans biggest tax increase since 2013
Erie Schools Superintendent Brian Polito recommended the 4.45% tax increase — the largest in the 10,000-student district since a 7.3% hike in 2013 — to generate revenue to that the district can continue to pay for pandemic-related support services after federal assistance for the services ends in 2024. Services include increased mental health counseling and academic improvement programs for students who struggled during the pandemic.
The 4.45% increase is also higher than the 2.46% increase recommended in the school district’s state-mandated financial improvement plan. The district adopted the plan three years ago in exchange for receiving $14 million in recurring annual government aid to stay solvent.
In November, Polito asked the state Department of Education to remove the district from the plan, citing the district’s financial stability. The request is pending.
The four principals who voted against the 4.45% tax hike said they favored an increase closer to 2.46% due to high inflation and other economic difficulties for taxpayers, although council chairwoman Lori Pickens said she would also be comfortable with a 3.5% increase. The four who voted against the 4.45% increase were Pickens, Board Vice Chairman John Harkins and Gwendolyn Cooley and Rosemary Sheridan.
Harkins suggested the board suspend the vote until the state approves its 2022-23 budget later this month, in hopes the state budget will provide more funding for the Erie School District. provided that. The state budget also goes into effect on July 1, and talks in Harrisburg are underway.
Polito said the council could adjust district finances a year from now, in the 2023-24 budget, if the state provides more funding to the district than expected in 2022-23. He warned that waiting to vote on the district budget until the state passes a budget could create problems for the district getting tax bills printed in time for the 2022-23 fiscal cycle.
Initial proposal:Proposed 4.45% tax increase to retain Erie School District programs added during pandemic
The five principals who voted for the 4.45% tax increase said the district needs to strengthen programs to help students with mental health and other issues long after school ends. the pandemic. The five were Tate, Jay Breneman, Daria Devlin, Lauren Gillespie and Sumner Nichols.
Devlin was among five administrators who said passing the 4.45% increase now makes sense because of how the state’s homestead exemption program will mitigate the hike for many homeowners. .
Polito said the 4.5% tax increase will have no effect on a home valued at $100,000 because of additional relief for owners enrolled in the Property Exemption Program. Even with a 4.45% tax increase, the additional property relief will mean the owner of a home valued at $100,000 would earn $10 in 2022-23, according to district records.
The state grants exemption reductions on homesteads using gambling revenue. Homeowners must apply for exemptions for their principal residences
On Wednesday evening, the Erie school board held its hour-long meeting in front of a nearly empty auditorium at East Middle School. Only one resident spoke to the board about the tax hike – Richard Gorski, a pensioner who said the increase was too high for him and the other pensioners. Gorski also spoke at the board’s non-voting study session a week ago.
Before voting against the tax hike, Sheridan said she was “disappointed that more of our taxpayers didn’t show up tonight.”