By a 5-2 vote with two school board directors absent and one voting via conference call, the Whitehall-Coplay School District Board of School Directors Monday evening passed a near $60 million budget for the 2014-2015 school year calling for a 3.3 percent tax hike for property owners.
According to Board Vice President Robert Kolb, the exact $59,787,753 general fund budget is an increase of 5.8 percent from the past school year and balances revenues and expenditures with a .4927 mills resident property tax increase for a total real estate tax rate of 15.419 mills.
He noted this represents an increase of approximately $84 for the average residential property owner in the Whitehall-Coplay area.
School directors Owen Eberhart and Patty Gaugler were the dissenting voters while Eileen Abruzzi voted to approve the budget via conference call from her hotel room in Florida.
Treasurer Arthur Taschler, in addition to board member Josef Fragnito, were not in attendance to vote.
Superintendent John Corby said five “in-favor votes” are required for the district’s budget to pass as opposed to a board member majority vote.
The board also approved a 2014-2015 Homestead and Farmstead Resolution accepting $1,172,712.84 in property tax reduction funds or $157.86 for each of 7,431 Whitehall-Coplay School District area property owners.
The tax reduction funds are the state’s gaming tax dollars collected from its casinos whereby a portion of these revenues are used to provide rebates to taxpayers under the Taxpayer Relief Act of 2006.
Kolb attributed the tax hike to several factors including increased charter school costs over which, “We have no say,” he stated. In addition, he continued, the tax increase is due to rising district pension contributions and health insurance costs.
School District Business Manager Jay Michael Malay said Whitehall-Coplay healthcare costs have risen $653,000 for the next school year from $4.9 million to 5.6 million for 2014-2015 due to higher taxes the Lehigh Valley Healthcare Consortium is required to pay as part of the Affordable Healthcare Act.