Cornwall-Lebanon School District

Property taxes are going up again in the Cornwall-Lebanon School District, just like they have for at least the past 11 years.

The increase, which will cost the average homeowner about $70, is necessary to balance the district's proposed final budget of $80.5 million approved April 15. The board will vote on the final budget at the June 17 meeting.

Real estate taxes will be set at 15.4989 mills. A mill is equal to $1 of tax for each $1,000 of assessed value of property. For a property assessed at $159,900, the district median, that equates to a $2,478 tax bill, about $70 more than this year. Such an increase would generate about $1.33 million in revenue to the district, according to budget documents.

The proposed budget includes almost $2.5 million in increased expenditures. The difference will be made up by using money from the district’s reserves, said district spokesperson Amy Wissinger. Those funds will come from an account the district set up seven years ago to offset anticipated spikes in pension costs.

The 2.9% tax increase is the maximum the district is permitted under the state’s Act 1 guidelines. Any increase above that would require an exception from the Department of Education, or approval by the district’s voters in a special referendum. The district has increased property taxes in each of the past 11 years since Act 1 went into effect.

This is the fourth straight year the district has not needed to request an exception. Cornwall-Lebanon has not needed a referendum since the tax increase index was implemented. Schools can increase their taxes above the initial index, if granted, for certain hardships such as school construction, debt service, special education costs or high retirement costs.

There are no new programs or positions being funded in the proposed budget, Wissinger said. Almost two-thirds of the increased spending — $1.7 million — will pay for increased salaries and benefits for district staff, with the lion’s share, around $1 million, going to cover increased retirement and health benefit costs. Costs for the district’s special education programs are expected to go up around $600,000, a 14 percent increase over the current budget.

In addition to the tax increase, budget documents reflect a $700,000 (2.7%) increase in state funding. That figure includes a $327,000 hike in basic education funding and $261,000 more in state contributions toward retirement and Social Security costs.

Additional adjustments will be made before the budget’s final adoption to update the latest projections for real estate values, state revenue and federal funding.