Tax hike, layoffs in school budget proposal

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MIDDLE TOWNSHIP – Property owners will pay more in school taxes and some people will be out of work under Middle Township Board of Education’s proposed 2013-14 budget.

Officials are still working on whittling $1.3 million from the budget, even with a 4 percent increase for the taxpayers, said Superintendent Michael Kopakowski.

“Right now, we’re just trying to make sense to this,” he said.

The proposed general budget is $40.176 million, with about $23.5 coming from township taxpayers, according to Kopakowski and business administrator Diane Fox. The overall proposed budget is $43.613 million.

The 2012-13 general budget totals $41.8 million with the overall budget being $45.78 million, according to Fox.

The school board held the line on taxes last year and did not require increasing the budget by 2 percent, the state’s limit.

Kopakowski said the Board of Education is able to combine last year’s 2 percent with this year’s, so the proposed budget calls for a 4 percent tax increase.

School board members will have until they adopt the budget on March 28 to make changes.

Taxes did not increase for this school year, but doing the same for next school year would mean deeper cuts – about $2.2 million, Kopakowski said.

The reduction of $1.3 million is enough of a challenge, he said. Positions could be cut in administration, custodial, teachers, support staff, transportation and maintenance.

Extracurricular activities and athletic positions could be on the chopping block, too. School board members are also looking at the long-term substitute pay.

Not every cut would mean someone being fired, he said. Some positions would not be filled after a person retires, Kopakowski said.

He indicated that more cuts are likely at the high school. Enrollment has been declining at that school, by what he believes to be by at least 150 students.

Major drivers of the school district’s budget are personnel and health benefits, Kopakowski said.

The proposed tax rate is 87.8 cents per $100 of assessed value; for 2012-13, the rate is 84.4 cents, according to Fox. That number was adjusted for a property tax reassessment that went into effect this year, which has meant a decline in the township’s overall ratables. That adjustment allowed an easier comparison of this year’s proposed tax rate to last year’s rate because of the change in valuation.

Under this year’s proposed rate, the owner of a house assessed at $200,000 would owe $1,756 in school taxes this year, in addition to township and county taxes. That average owner would pay $67 more in school taxes compared to last year, Kopakowski said.

The budget has been submitted to the county executive superintendent of schools.

The Board of Education will hold a public hearing on the budget Thursday, March 28. The meeting starts at 6 p.m. at the administration building at 216 South Main St. in Cape May Court House.

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