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Budget uncertainty, cost increases prompt property tax hikes

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HARRISBURG - The state's association of school administrators is sounding the alarm on higher property taxes for many Pennsylvanians.

A recent survey of school districts showed 85 percent of the districts in the state plan on increasing property taxes this year, with the biggest reason being uncertainty about an on-time state budget.

“I think it's a systemic problem with the system,” Jim Buckheit, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators, said. “I think everybody shares in the blame for where we are right now.”

But state lawmakers appear to be saying the right things when it comes to passing the budget by next Thursday’s deadline, rather than the fiasco that paralyzed the state when the last budget was finally approved nine months overdue.

“I think the tone has been much different this year,” House Minority Leader Dave Reed (R – Indiana) said. “Everybody has come to the table legitimately wanting to get this done and instead of negotiating between press releases I think we've been more focused on negotiating with each other, which is a good thing.”

School districts are also mandated to stick to the June 30th deadline for a budget, which can be a problem for planning on funds that may not arrive. More than a third of districts surveyed say they will need to borrow money if the budget is not on-time.

The cart is before the horse every year when the districts do this,” Buckheit said. “Districts are being very conservative in being like, ‘We've got to make sure we're not going to run out of money again next year.’”

Even with tax hikes looming, schools are facing state-mandated cost increases in pensions, healthcare, special education and charter schools.

“School districts next year are still looking at losing ground as they have over the last six years,” Buckheit said. “Because of that, their new revenue is less than what their mandated expenses are.”