Bellefonte Area School District reopens budget, passes plan with no tax increase

Bellefonte Area School District residents got good news Tuesday: Taxes won’t increase this year after all.

The final $46.19 million 2014-15 budget was passed in June with a 1 percent tax increase.

Budget discussions were reopened at Tuesday’s school board meeting and the spending plan passed again in a 6-1 vote.

The district reopened the budget after Gov. Tom Corbett signed a state budget last week that included $200,000 more than the district had anticipated. Ken Bean, the district’s director of fiscal affairs, created a budget that was about $200,000 less than last year.

Bean said he did his best to predict what the state would do before Corbett signed the budget. The district initially expected funding cuts.

When the state budget was finalized, the state announced that all school districts across Pennsylvania would receive the same amount of basic education funding as last year.

On the other hand, the the district received a “small increase” in special education funding, Bean said.

The two amounts — basic and special education funding — are about $235,000, and will be used to reduce tax millage so that there is no increase in the millage rate for 2014-15, Bean said.

“The tax bills in Bellefonte do not go out until Aug. 1, which allowed me to wait on the state budget,” Bean said. “The district was being conservative on its budget from the state and now that we have the actual numbers we can make the changes and not increase taxes.”

This year’s homestead and farmstead tax exclusions to eligible residents is $186.14 at the district’s real estate tax rate of 47.41 mills.

According to the state Auditor General’s Office, property owners can apply for the tax exclusion through Centre County. Farmers can qualify for a farmstead exemption on facilities used for agricultural purposes, on at least 10 acres and as the primary residence of the owner.

Board member George Stone was the lone “no” vote.

Stone said he would like to have seen the governor veto the budget and find other ways to put more money back into education funding. He said he thought flat funding this year was only a sign of the future in which programs would be cut and teacher layoffs would be seen to make up for the state’s shortcomings.

“I don’t see Harrisburg addressing this. … I can’t vote for that because I know what’s coming,” Stone said. “It’s tough because we’re affecting people locally.”

Board member Rodney Musser said he agreed with Stone but still cast a “yes” vote because “money is rarely saved.”

“It never happens,” he said.

Total 2014-15 state funding amounts to $14,697,527 of which the basic education budget flat-lined at $7,949,221, according to the district and the state Department of Education.

Board members also said they will develop a committee for a capital campaign for the proposed new stadium project.

Planning is in the early stages, but preliminary figures show that it could cost the district about $4.6 million. Bean said that all financial figures are only estimates.

Plans include a multiphase, multimillion-dollar football, track and parking lot project at the high school.

The district has consulted with the ELA Group to design a new, handicap-accessible facility that could break ground next year, Musser said at a meeting in May.