FRANCONIA — Property taxes in the Souderton Area School District increase 1.45 percent under the $129,685,988 2019-2020 budget approved June 20 by Souderton Area School Board. 

For a home assessed at $150,000, which is close to the average assessment, the tax bill will be $64.41 more, going from the current $4,443.02 to $4,507.43. The new tax rate is 30.0495 mills. Each mill equals $1 of tax per $1,000 of assessed property value.

In his comments before the board vote, Superintendent Dr. Frank Gallagher said the 1.45 percent hike is significantly less than the 2.33 percent increase that the budget process started with in October. 

"The reason for that is the work that's been done in this room for many months between the administration and the board," he said. "We worked hard. We continued to look outside the box for ways to find efficiencies, but in addition to all the good work the board has done and the administration, this budget invests in a new middle school schedule to meet the needs of today's middle schoolers. It invests in technology for educational purposes. It is adding back ninth grade boys and girls basketball. And, finally and most importantly, this budget continues to advance the safe schools efforts of our district with the additional police officer, additional security staff, additional security equipment and training for all staff members."

"A lot of work does go into that," board President Ken Keith said. "I think anybody that's in the public that's attended our meetings sees that first hand. No stone goes left unturned as Mrs. Scheuren and her committee will attest." 

Board Vice President Donna Scheuren chairs the Finance Committee. 

Gallagher said the amount of state funding to the district increased, but federal funding decreased. 

"I just want to reinforce school funding in Pennsylvania needs to be fixed because in districts like ours that are high performing districts, the burden is always on the local taxpayer and it's not fair," Gallagher said.

Scheuren noted the district's advocacy in Harrisburg to fight for fair funding. 

"Souderton School District faces so many unfunded mandates that our surrounding school districts don't even encounter," she said. "I think that's what's most challenging."

Under state law, the maximum tax hike this year without a referendum or exceptions could have been 2.3 percent. 

The board approved the budget and tax rate in an 8-0 vote with board member Janet Flisak absent.

The district is receiving $2,251,653 this year for homestead/farmstead exemptions, Brian Pawling, the district's director of business affairs, said after the meeting. There are 11,061 homestead properties eligible for the exemption and 55 eligible farmsteads, he said, giving a $202.56 reduction in the tax bill for each of the homestead/farmstead properties. Funding for those deductions comes from legalized gambling in the state.

The budget takes $269,111 from reserves, he said. 

"We have some technology upgrades in there that we're gonna utilize that money for," Pawling said.

The $269,111 will come from part of the $400,000 that was in the Internal Service (Medical) Fund and was transferred by the board during the meeting to the General Fund, he said. 

The Medical Fund is a separate account to pay medical bills, Gallagher said in answer to a question during the meeting. The district is self-insured, Keith said. 

The Medical Fund has a total of about $2 million, Gallagher and Pawling said. 

"We have a little more money in there than we need, so we can transfer that out to help next year's budget," Gallagher said.

In other matters at the meeting: 

• The board approved refinancing bonds originally from 2013. 

"This will result in significant savings to our budget, but also keeps our debt service on track to be paid off in six years," Gallagher said. 

The about $9.65 million of bonds was scheduled to be sold the following week, Pawling said following the meeting. 

"Our minimum that we're looking to save is $100,000," he said. "We're hoping, based on the way that the markets are right now, that we'll see in excess of that $100,000." 

• The board approved a new three-year contract, running July 1, 2019 through June 30, 2022, with the Souderton Area Educational Support Personnel Association. 

The contract covers about 150 workers including teaching assistants, cafeteria assistants, playground assistants and special education assistants, Dr. Christopher Hey, the district's assistant superintendent and director of human resources, said following the meeting. 

"These are folks that work hard every day to provide the educational and supplemental services we provide," Hey said. 

While not the highest paid employees, the work they do is critical, he said. 

"We value them quite highly," Hey said. 

The new contract gives raises ranging from 14 to 64 cents per hour in the first year, 45 cents per hour in the second year, and ranging from 15 to 65 cents per hour in the third year, he said.  

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