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School Taxes Could Jump Above Act 1 Index

The Bensalem Township School District is aiming for a 3.2 percent tax increase as part of next year’s school budget.

The Bensalem Township School District is aiming for a 3.2 percent tax increase as part of next year’s school budget.
The Bensalem Township School District is aiming for a 3.2 percent tax increase as part of next year’s school budget.

Bensalem property owners will pay more in real estate taxes in the coming school year under the district’s preliminary $133.5 million budget. 

As projected in the Bensalem Township School District’s preliminary spending plan outlined in a power point presentation Wednesday, school district taxes could rise by 3.2 percent–roughly 1.5 times the increase amount permitted under the state’s Act 1, according to Kenneth Medina, the district’s director of business operations.

For the owner of a home with an average assessed value of $21,000, that translates to $97 more per year in taxes for 2014-2015 as compared to currently, Medina said.

The tax levy amounts are not set in stone, Medina said. However, he said the school board is on track to authorize approval of application for three special exceptions that would permit the district to raise taxes beyond the 2.1 percent tax increase allowed under the state’s Act 1 Taxpayer Relief Act.

Factors warranting special exception tax increases

Medina said the district’s required 21 percent increase in the Public School Employees' Retirement System is the main driver in raising taxes beyond the threshold. The district intends to seek permission to raise $1.1 million more in taxes to help cover that expense. An amount has not been set for the special education exception. The other exception, in the amount of $1.3 million, would be used for “grandfathered” debt expenses, which Medina said would cover debt service for the district’s yet-to-be-started $78 million Bensalem High School renovation and expansion project

He had told Patch previously that taxes would not be raised beyond the Act 1 threshold to cover the project, but said Thursday that that is now necessary. 

Increased expenditures totaling $4 million–including $2.2 million more for the retirement system increase–warrants the need to apply for a special exception, he said.

Other factors include escalating medical insurance costs, which he said are projected to be 12 to 14 percent higher next year and cost an additional $1.7 million. 

In all, the preliminary budget, as proposed, is $4.16 million higher year over year.

The district will use “some” of its roughly $9 million from its undesignated fund balance to help offset shortfalls or tax increases, he said. The district tries to keep 4 to 6 percent in that account he said, noting that 5.05 percent is currently in the account.

The board “wants to be careful that they don’t use up all the available fund balances,” Medina said. “They won’t have any wiggle room or any fallback position in future years.” 

Next steps

Following Wednesday’s first budget work session, the board is expected to adopt its preliminary budget on Jan. 22 and authorize request for the special exceptions needed to raise taxes beyond the 2.1 percent cap.

In the meantime, Medina said the district must cut back on some of its cost centers by at least 5 percent. Doing so will trim the roughly $1 million needed to balance the budget with the exceptions figured in.

The district will also work to align its programs with its recently approved comprehensive plan, he said, adding that “funding educational initiatives” is a priority.

The board’s instructional affairs committee approved courses for next year, he said. Those would be scheduled and the community would know which courses would be available within the next six to 12 weeks, he said. 

Part of the course offering process is “aligning our resources to match that comprehensive plan as much as affordable,” he said.

Those resources are teachers and the district does not know how many will retire at the end of the year. Options could include reductions in staffing through attrition. Teacher furloughs are not under consideration at the moment, he said.

However, “nothing is off the table,” Medina said.

Finalizing the budget

Besides the preliminary adoption later this month, the board is expected to adopt its proposed final budget on May 14 and its final budget on June 18.

Between now and then, Medina said the district welcomes community input, particularly at committee meetings.

“We do serve our public,” Medina said. “The budget’s not just about numbers, it’s about supporting education as warranted.”

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Scott M January 09, 2014 at 11:55 PM
Why am I not surprised by this news? BSD has got to be the worst.. THE WORST school district in Bucks County. Your High School teachers STINK!! They don't give a darn if a student knows anything, just pass them along, and they're not my problem anymore. The board just continues to mismanage the money and the budget gets higher and higher. Anybody know a good real estate person? We gotta sell before the bottom completely falls out.
P2YA January 10, 2014 at 11:12 AM
Naturally; election's over! This is last year's and this year's increases lumped together. You'll recall there was no increase in school taxes in 2013. Other rationale was sited but mostly, let's be honest, it had to do with the risk of raising taxes in an election cycle. Bensalem's low voter turnout helped usher the same party back into power on the School Board, and now they're emboldened to sock it to us. There was an opportunity to introduce fresh thinking and ideas, but none of those candidates were successful. Their party members do not show up to vote. Not voting is indirectly a stamp of approval for the status quo. Anyone who didn't vote has no standing to complain about tax increases. You reap what you sew. Just get out your checkbook. Also, let's not forget to mention that one reason for big tax increases now and in the future is our PA legislature's inability to take any decisive action on runaway pension costs--mostly because it would also affect THEIR entitlement. That's a whole other topic.
P2YA January 10, 2014 at 11:25 AM
By the way, let me also mention the sweetheart deal that was given to teacher's more or less under the cloak of darkness with ZERO public input. While Neshaminy and other districts were holding the line and winning concessions from the all-powerful teacher's union, Ralph Douglass and his select committee were busily making plans and shaking hands to give away the store. Opportunities to control healthcare costs and other compensation items were lost in that piece of window-dressing. Hardly good stewardship. Rather, some good old backslapping to their teacher friends. Oh, and the high school. Going back on a commitment to not have costs of debt exceed the cap, get yourselves ready for this to be an annual event. Cost overruns and adding things after the fact will ensure this is just the beginning of taxpayer's covering extraordinary cost for an over-the-top renovation.
Vic Monaco January 10, 2014 at 01:21 PM
So, Medina gives us a relatively positive picture before the election and while the district is selling its high school Taj Mahal project and now, SURPRISE (not), it's completely different and we each pay an average extra $100. And the district does this because it knows how apathetic the community is. So sad.
Matt January 14, 2014 at 08:38 PM
I've heard the high school project is being scaled back that is the reason for the delay. The board publicly admitted weeks ago wanting to spend $40 million for paint, windows, doors and mechanicals and then share the other $40 million with the other schools in the district. The high school is a dump it would be cheaper to build from the ground up.
james bailey January 16, 2014 at 01:43 PM
What else is NEW? Let's penalize the Homeowners of BENSALEM with higher school tax. This is why HB/SB76 school tax elimination needs to be passed now. The new way school tax would be paid for is on a more even keel. Everyone NOT JUST HOMEOWNERS would be contributing.
Eric Stern January 20, 2014 at 08:54 AM
What a joke. First you had to see this coming. And P2YA you are correct. The teacher's contract was negotiated and approved without public input. And now they are going to raise taxes to help pay for that contract and the HS renovations. The biggest problem in Bensalem as opposed to some of the other townships is that the public (i.e. taxpayers) do not make enough noise in protest. I think the school board assumes that they can do whatever they want without retribution. Witness the the scandal involving the the theft of equipment and ghost employees. What changes occurred on the school board? None, the Republican machine in Bensalem made sure that there endorsed candidates were reelected. Until we as the taxpaying public stand in protest and demand that these folks become responsible for their actions then nothing in Bensalem will change no matter what are complaints.
james bailey January 20, 2014 at 11:46 AM
Eric you really need to check out HB/SB76 School Tax Elimination. You will see how each homeowner would save. You will see that NO OFFICIALS in BENSALEM support this bill. The coalition for HB/SB 76 suggest to CLEAN HOUSE. I agree 110% ELECTION TIME let the VOICES of EVERY BENSALEM HOMEOWNER be heard. TIME FOR A CHANGE IN BENSALEM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Believe March 28, 2014 at 01:13 PM
I realize all construction/renovation projects are differenct, however, why is the Pottstgrove School District able to do all this for 33 million dollars???? In addition to a new gymnasium with seating for 1,200, the project plan calls for many improvements including, to name a few: three new engineering labs, two science labs, two new large-group-instruction rooms with capabilities for bring used as “virtual classrooms,” new nurse and guidance suites, a renovated library, additional music room, larger band/orchestra and choral rooms, a larger, more efficient cafeteria, three enlarged art studios, enlarged auxiliary gym, weight room and fitness center, a complete new mechanical system and new lighting and data wiring throughout.
Vic Monaco March 28, 2014 at 01:19 PM
Good point. Because this administration and board has a history of messed-up, high-priced projects and seems to be more concerned with their legacy than student performance and taxpayer money.
james bailey March 28, 2014 at 01:54 PM
This is why HB/SB76 is so important. We need a change in all government positions. Remember voting time out with the old and in with the new. Current politicians are all for the school unions. Let's get them out of office before we are all broke and homeless
Vic Monaco March 28, 2014 at 01:56 PM
The district is indeed making it very difficult for many folks to stay here.
james bailey March 28, 2014 at 02:01 PM
Time to get rid of the bad seeds in office and I mean a total sweep from the top on down
P2YA March 28, 2014 at 09:57 PM
Hierarchy of Bensalem is totally pro-union, so I imagine the high school renovation is a union job top to bottom. That could be what accounts for a higher cost, probably at least 20%.
Believe March 31, 2014 at 01:02 PM
Also check out what the Boyertown School District in Berks County is doing for less money. So many of these schools seem to have similar plans at 1/3 to 1/2 less than what Bensalem is going to spend. Also, the price could increase from what they are quoting, has happened to other schools.

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