Hike funding

OUR TAKE: Funding education may be the best property tax reform | Opinion

IT IS NOT typical for a municipal official to tell a school board how to run its affairs.

But Sharon City Manager Bob Fiscus did so last month.

As the Sharon City School Board prepares to pass its 2022-23 budget, Fiscus warned that a planned $3 million tax hike could derail the city’s revitalization efforts.

“We want to attract people to our city, keep them here, invest here, but raising taxes becomes counterproductive,” Fiscus said.

It wouldn’t be fair to say that Fiscus’s pleas fell on deaf ears, but the council passed the tax hike, by a vote of 6 to 3, minutes after his warning.

Traditionally, school districts pass their budgets and set property tax rates in June. And June 2022 has been a bloodbath for many Mercer County homeowners. Other area school districts also raised taxes, including 3,984 mills in Farrell, 2.8 mills in Hermitage, and 2 mills in Grove City.

The state budget — finalized on July 9, more than a week into the new fiscal year — offers some hope to beleaguered local school districts.

It includes increases of $525 million in basic education grants for public schools, with an additional $225 million increase in the “Level Up” program, which directs additional funds to the 100 most school districts. poorest in the state.

In Mercer County alone, Farrell, Greenville Area, Mercer Area and Sharon will receive Level Up funding.

Overall, the budget increases funding for public schools by more than $1.2 billion.

State Rep. Mark Longietti, D-7, Hermitage, minority chairman of the House Education Committee, said the spending plan “would provide the kind of meaningful education funding that was long overdue for public schools in Pennsylvania.” “.

Longetti is right. The state budget is a good start, but only a start.

The $1.2 billion increase came after a month-long plea for help, in the form of property tax hikes, from Pennsylvania’s 500 public school districts.

Faced with growing demands and — at least until this year — stagnant state funding, school districts are increasingly finding themselves with limited resources to cover gaping budget holes.

Too often, these resources boil down to raising property taxes.

This year’s state budget represents a change. But will it be enough?

Perhaps the most important question is: will it continue?

This additional funding was an easy decision this year. Pennsylvania posted a final budget surplus of $2.5 billion, even after allocating an additional $1.2 billion to public schools.

It could be a different story next year, with federal pandemic money disappearing and an expected economic downturn impacting state revenues.

Rather, the state legislature and new governor should commit to similar increases next year and announce that commitment as soon as possible, no later than January, so that local districts can count on that support. when developing their own budgets.

School taxes represent the largest portion of property taxes for almost all property owners in the state.

If the state commits early to increase public school funding to levels similar to the additional support this year, it could help districts avoid tax increases similar to those passed this year.

And it might be the best property tax relief of them all.