Tax increase to come as HTSD adopts budget

The budget will largely cover routine maintenance objectives, special education students and transportation costs.

The Harrison Township Board of Education adopted the 2019-2020 school budget, with no changes from the preliminary budget that called for a rise in taxes for homeowners.

The new budget includes a 2.57-cent tax rate increase per $100 of assessed home value, a 1.5-cent raise from last year. This means for an average assessed home valued at $342,650, residents can expect to see an annual increase of $88.06. The full budget amount totals $21,300,360.

Superintendent Missy Peretti said the the budget includes two school buses, general routine maintenance (air quality testing, duct cleaning and LED lighting upgrades) and special education students.

During the public hearing, resident and teacher at Pleasant Valley School Annamarie Mason inquired about the positive change in per capita income of taxpayers with respect to an unnamed apartment complex that was renovated.

Business Administrator Robert Scharle said the valuation of the township went up roughly .75 percent, according to the county’s tax assessor, and it helps bring the levy down, which lowers the tax rate. He added the state determines the district’s income and wealth to determine necessary aid.

“What happens is they’ll take the adjusted per pupil aid that they increased by $466, then they’ll measure and increase the district income and the local fair share,” he said. “Then they take that difference, and the smaller that difference is, the less state aid, and the bigger of a cut we’ll get of state aid. It’s a complicated procedure.”

Scharle said with Naples having the liquor license, it will help in terms of having ratables in town go up.

Resident Kelly Redkoles asked about the state mandating the district to hit the 2 percent tax cap and how often it would be mandated.

“Based on current projections, we’re expected to get cut every year moving forward,” said Peretti. “…We have to raise taxes up to the 2 percent.”

For the 2019-2020 school year, the district will lose $77,318 in state aid. Until fiscal year 2025 (2024-2025 school year), the district is projected to lose another $517,432 in state aid.

Redkoles went on to inquire if the district were creative in balancing the budget, if it would avoid the raise. Scharle said with rising costs, notably in personnel, which he estimates takes up roughly 85 percent of the budget, and the cut in state aid, they’re likely going to need to raise taxes.

“We’re always looking to save costs, like with the LED lighting and what not,” he said. “I know this year, I was able to lower our electric budget by $15,000 going into ’19-’20. Right now, it’s costing $25,000 annually, so our breakeven is going to be about four or five years.”

During the presentation, Peretti said the board will continue to offer supplemental instruction for students, improve school safety and maintain the quality of education.

The board said it will look for a way to formally thank Harrison Township for offering to purchase a school bus for it to help offset costs. Scharle said the district is required to retire buses after 15 years by the state and three are going out this year.

A copy of the budget is available on the district’s website at www.HarrisonTwp.K12.NJ.US.

In other news:

  • The board approved the administrators’ contract for 2019-2022 which calls for 2 percent salary increases each year. Employees will continue with the Chapter 78 contribution to health-care premiums, and the base plan health-care co-pays will increase on July 1 and continue within the contract.
  • Students and the community voted to rebrand Harrison Township Elementary and PVS as the Explorers, which Peretti said is in line with Clearview Regional’s Pioneers. The only costs associated with the rebrand is removing the panther on PVS’ building, which Peretti said would be minimal. Board member Jennifer Bowen said final details are being worked on to decide on the district’s colors and an official logo.

The next board meeting is scheduled for May 20, beginning at 7 p.m. at Pleasant Valley School.