SUNBURY - The Northumberland County Board of Elections approved Southern Columbia Area School District's property tax increase referendum question for Ralpho Township voters on the ballot for the May 20 primary election.

At Tuesday's meeting, Commissioners Richard Shoch and Stephen Bridy, along with Commissioner Clausi calling in by telephone, gave their consent to allow the district to poll their residents in the county about whether to raise taxes above the Act 1 limit and exceptions allowed by the state.

The question will appear on the ballot as follows: "Do you favor the Southern Columbia Area School District increasing the rate of its tax on real estate by 4.46 mills more than the Act 1 2014-2015 Index, which is 2.7 percent, plus any Act 1 exceptions approved by the Pennsylvania Department of Education? This equates to a $106.04 tax for a property assessed at the average assessment of $23,775. The revenue generated from this increased tax rate will be used to help balance the district's budget for 2014-2015."

Cortney Marise, assistant registrar of the Northumberland County Board of Elections, said independent voters and those registered in minority parties will be allowed to vote on this question, but not anything else in the primary election.

Columbia County commissioners have not held a meeting to approve such a referendum question for residents in Catawissa Borough and Franklin and Catawissa townships since the school board approved the question at their March 17 meeting.

The next two meetings for Columbia County are scheduled for Thursday and April 17.

The question that those residents should see on their ballots on May 17 will read as follows: "Do you favor the Southern Columbia Area School District increasing the rate of its tax on real property by 5.40 mills more than the Act 1 2014-2015 Index, which is 2.7 percent, plus any Act 1 exceptions approved by the Pennsylvania Department of Education? This equates to a $173.12 tax for a property assessed at the average assessment of $32,060. The revenue generated from this increased tax rate will be used to help balance the district's budget for 2014-2015."

The district budget, which still has a $650,000 deficit gap to fill, is being driven by ongoing teacher contract negotiations, health care and pension costs and debts from the last building project.

The Pennsylvania Taxpayer Relief Act of 2006, otherwise known as Act 1, requires school districts to limit tax increases to a level set by an inflation index, unless a higher increase is approved by the voters in a referendum or the school district obtains certain referendum exceptions from the Department of Education or a court of common pleas.

Voters in every school district will have the final say on extraordinary tax increases, according to the act.