Proposed Cranberry budget includes tax hike

Contributing writer

Cranberry School District property owners could see a hike in their real estate taxes if a budget discussed at Monday’s Cranberry School Board meeting gets final passage next month.

All nine school board members voted to give tentative approval to a $19,027,213 budget for the 2018-19 school term. That figure is about $356,000 higher than the current district budget.

The proposed budget calls for an increase in the tax millage. The hike would amount to a 3.3 percent increase at 14.0927 mills.

For an owner of a residential property assessed at $100,000, the tax increase would amount to about $45.

Henry Karg, the school district business manager, told the board they should consider three budget options.

– $18,901,214 with the millage rate at 13.6425. That is the current tax rate. Karg said a $68,000 budget deficit would be “covered by the district’s fund balance.”

– $18,901,214 with the millage rate at 13.8016. That represents about a 1.2 percent increase in the tax levy. Karg said the additional monies raised through the tax would “cover that $68,000 deficit” without touching the district’s fund balance.

– $19,027,213 with the millage rate at 14.0927, a 3.3 percent increase. That level of 3.3 percent is the threshold set by the state. If a district goes higher than that, any increase would require either a Pennsylvania Department of Education exception or voter approval through a ballot referendum. Last November, the board voted to not exceed that 3.3 percent mark.

Karg said the third option would “cover the deficit … (and) add $125,999 additional dollars” to the budget.

In offering support of the higher budget and subsequent tax hike, board president Tom Neely said, “I lean toward the third option.”

He said the school district has a number of expensive capital projects, “$2.5 to $3.5 million”, that involve paving, roofing and drainage work on the school property. While the work could be spread over a two- to three-year span, the hefty cost will dramatically impact the district finances, he said.

The board will adopt a final version of the budget at its June meeting. The last time the board raised taxes was in 2016 when the millage went up by 2 percent.

Safety is key issue

A key item in the tentative spending plan involves security and safety in the district schools. In voting to accept the tentative budget, the board agreed, at school director Camae Bunyak’s insistence, that a priority in next year’s spending would be “the safety of the students.”

That subject was outlined by Bill Vonada, school superintendent, who said he has been gathering information on two related matters. One involves metal screening for exterior and interior doors and windows that would reduce visibility should an intruder try to enter a building or classroom. Unofficial quotes for the work are $29,645 for the exterior and $27,658 for the interior work.

In addition, Vonada said he is considering options for a school police officer. He said the district could contract to a “third party,” arrange for coverage from the Venango County sheriff’s office or directly hire someone to provide police coverage.

“The most attractive, to me, is contracting with the sheriff’s office,” said the superintendent, who noted he has discussed the issue with Sheriff Eric Foy.

The security officer would “be armed and have police powers” and would work eight hours a day for the 180-day school calendar. The cost would be about $50,000 a year. The recommendation, said Vonada, is to have one in the elementary school and one at the high school.

“It’s uncomfortable we even have to talk about it,” said Neely. “… It is unnerving to all of us.”

Bunyak said her vote for a budget was predicated on “earmarking money for security and safety” and said it would be affirmative “with the understanding the first priority is the safety of the students.” Her comment was echoed by board member Heidi Murdoch who noted, “Make sure it is earmarked for those things.”

When board member Kyle Melat asked when a resource officer might begin work, Neely replied, “once the board decides, the officer could start tomorrow.”

For more on the Cranberry School Board meeting, visit