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NASD School board approves 1% tax hike

The Northampton Area School District 2024-25 school budget has been approved with a 1% tax hike.

The millage will increase 0.56 mills, to 56.27 mills from 55.71 mills, or to $3,544.94 from $3,509.73 in 2023.

Pennsylvania’s Homestead Exclusion for school district taxpayers increases to $171.85 from $142.89. Including the Homestead Exclusion, the real estate tax increases to $3,373.09 from $3,366.84.

If the real estate tax is paid with the 2% discount, it’s $3,305.63, up from $3,299.50.

A homeowner’s tax bill would increase $6.25 annually or 52 cents per month, a 0.18% increase. The average tax bill is based on the district average assessment of $63,000.

The 1% increase generates $722,895, with $1,468,542 taken from the district fund balance, to balance the 2024-25 budget.

The estimated remaining fund balance would be $16,592,163.

The tax hike and use of the fund balance would offset the 2024-25 budget deficit of $2.2 million, based on expenditures of $131.9 million and revenue of $129.7 million.

The vote was 6-2 at the NASD school board June 10 meeting in favor of approving the 1% tax hike. The motion for the 1% tax increase was made by Kim Bretzik and seconded by Josh Harris.

Voting for the 1% tax hike were school Directors Harris, Ross Makary, Dr. Michael Baird, John Becker, Bretzik and board Vice President Kristin Soldridge. Voting against the 1% tax increase were school Director Brian McCulloch and board President Doug Vaughn.

New Director Nathan Lichtenwalner, appointed June 4 by Northampton County President Judge Craig A. Dally, had a previously scheduled family vacation and did not attend the board meeting June 10. He will represent Region 2, Northampton Borough and East Allen Township.

In a vote at the June 10 meeting, school directors voted 8-0 to adopt the 2024-25 final budget of $131,870,465 for the general fund and $3,859,134 for the food service fund.

The general fund budget is supported by the tax increase and the Act 511 Local Tax Enabling act, with a $5 per capita tax, 0.5% real estate transfer tax and 0.7% earned income tax, and the Section 670 Pennsylvania School Code, with a $5 per capita tax and 56.27 mills real estate tax.

NASD Business Administrator Craig Neiman made the NASD 2024-25 final budget presentation during the June 10 meeting.

Changes to the budget from the May 13 budget presentation include a deficit reduction to $2.2 million from $3.4 million, a revenue increase to $129.7 million from $129.2 million and an expenditure reduction to $131.9 million from $132.5 million.

The 2024-25 budget expenditures are a 2.7% or $3.4 million increase from the 2023-24 budget of $128.4 million.

In the 2024-25 budget, salaries are $51.6 million, a 4.4% or $2.2 million increase; benefits are $35.1 million, a 5.5% or $1.8 million increase; and other expenditures were reduced $600,000 to $45.2 million from the 2023-24 budget.

In the 2024-25 budget, revenue increased 2.7% or $3.4 million to $129.7 million; local revenue increased 4% or $3.4 million to $87.3 million; state revenue increased 8.2% or $3 million to $40.7 million; and federal revenue decreased 64.6% or $3 million to $1.7 million from the 2023-24 budget.

Neiman provided updates since the May 18 proposed budget presentation. A $300,000 federal revenue increase will fund two special education teachers and one aide. A $220,000 state grant will fund two social workers. Leasing of technology devices will reduce expenditures by $600,000, and a new technology position was eliminated, reducing expenditures by $80,000.

The final 2024-25 budget assumes a $500,000 increase in basic education funding through the “student-weighted formula” in the Pennsylvania governor’s budget proposal.

Neiman presented seven options to reduce the deficit, ranging from the approved tax hike of 1% to tax hikes of 2%, 2.5% and 3%, as well as a 10% budget cut, staffing reduction and various amounts of fund balance use.

A motion by Harris for a 1% tax hike, 5% budget cut, $325,000 in staffing reductions and using $843,000 from the general fund did not receive a second and was not voted upon.

A 2% tax increase, on a motion by Becker and seconded by Makary, was defeated 4-3 with one abstention.

In his presentation, Neiman cautioned that, according to the Government Finance Officers Association, general purpose governments, including school districts should maintain a fund balance of no less than two months of general fund operating expenditures, which for NASD is $22 million.

Neiman said the 2024-25 budget tax increase options “do not consider the ongoing operation of Moore Elementary School or the potential renovation of the (Bethlehem Area) Vo-Tech.”

Estimates for the BATVS renovation and expansion are $22.1 million to $43.1 million, to be shared by NASD, Saucon Valley School District and Bethlehem Area School District.

It’s estimated the Moore project could cost $25.2 million for a partial renovation and $51.4 million for a full renovation.

Added to that would be staffing Moore upon the completion of the $75.8 million elementary school and education center, at Route 329 and Seemsville Road in East Allen Township, scheduled for completion in the summer of 2026.

“If the (NASD school) board determines to keep Moore Elementary School open as a fifth elementary school, the administration recommends a multiyear taxing strategy as previously discussed in the April budget update and at the Moore Elementary Town Hall (held April 4),” it was reported.

Bretzik, noting her advocacy to keep Moore open, lamented, “Moore Elementary is just a pipe dream. That’s just how it is.”

Harris, Soldridge and McCulloch said they have not yet given up on Moore Elementary.

NASD Superintendent of Schools Joseph S. Kovalchik asked for a moment of silence before the June 10 meeting for William B. Falstich, who died May 31.

Falstich, 72, former principal of George Wolf Elementary School and NASD assistant superintendent of school curriculum and assistant superintendent of personnel, retired in 2008 after a 35-year district career. Falstich was a charter member and past president of Northampton Area Konkrete Kids Educational Foundation and was a leading fundraiser, including for its annual golf tournament.

The NASD Board of Education holds its next monthly meeting 6:30 p.m. July 15 in the Northampton Area High School auditorium, 1619 Laubach Ave., Northampton.

PRESS PHOTO BY PAUL WILLISTEIN Northampton Area School District Business Administrator Craig Neiman presents the proposed final 2024-25 budget at the June 10 board of education meeting.