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Here's how much Lancaster County school districts can raise property taxes in 2020-21 [chart]

Lancaster County school districts can raise property taxes as much as 2.6% to 3.9% next year, based on limits recently released by the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

For now, that is.

Every fall, the state issues its Act 1 index, which limits how much each of the commonwealth’s 500 public school districts can raise property taxes.

Columbia Borough has the most flexibility among Lancaster County school districts, with a 3.9% allowable increase. At 2.6%, the lowest allowable increase, are Conestoga Valley, Eastern Lancaster County, Manheim Central, Manheim Township and Pequea Valley.

As budget talks heat up in the winter months, school boards may decide to seek an exception from the state.

They have until Feb. 13, 2020, to do so for reasons such as construction, emergencies or disasters, an unforeseen enrollment hike, or increases in special education, health care or retirement costs.

Penn Manor, which is in the process of a $99.9 million renovation and construction project at its high school, was one of four districts to raise taxes above the index this year. Others were Conestoga Valley, Elizabethtown Area and Solanco.

Penn Manor has raised taxes above the index for four consecutive years. Last year, it raised property taxes by 3.54% — the highest increase in the county.

Superintendent Mike Leichliter said the administration will recommend to the board not to exceed its 3.2% cap next year.

Many of the school districts contacted by LNP on Thursday said it was too early to tell whether they’ll seek exceptions.

Elizabethtown, capped at 3.3% this year, and Warwick, capped at 3.1%, plan on staying within the state’s limits, their spokespeople said.

Elizabethtown raised taxes by 2.92% — .02 percentage points higher than its index — this year. Warwick was the lone district without a tax increase.