Referendum Finally Comes to Allegheny County

In a blog entry last week we wrote about Act 1 and pointed out that "voters have had little, if any, opportunity to vote a school tax increase up or down on a ballot". This is due to the school tax reform statute allowing for tax increases up to an index or the possibility of securing one or more of ten exceptions that allow for an above-index tax increase without having to face the voters.

Just today it was reported that the Clairton School District will put its proposed 5.57 mill increase on the ballot for voter approval. The District would be allowed to increase taxes .57 without triggering a referendum, and they have sought out exceptions from the state. But District officials viewed the state budget proposal for education and the uncertain nature of its exception requests and decided to push forth with the referendum.

County data on millage rates shows that the District, like the City of Clairton, has a bifurcated tax rate. This means land and buildings are taxed at separate rates. The District switched from a single rate in 2006. As of 2009 the district’s rates were 3.1 mills for buildings, 75 mills for land. Data for 2010 shows that the rates increased to 3.9 mills and 87 mills, respectively. That’s a jump of 25% for buildings and 16% for land. It is not clear if the 5.57 mill proposal applies to one category or the other or is split between land and buildings.

But it is an extraordinary increase based on the index and the current rates. Now the District can try and make its case to the voters why the money is needed and a clear up-or-down vote can be made on that argument.