CATAWISSA RR - The millage rates have changed in Southern Columbia's referendum question for a tax increase to help balance its 2014-2015 budget.

If approved by voters, taxpayers within the district could see a property tax increase of $155 next year.

School board members approved a resolution at their March 17 meeting to place a referendum question on the May 20 primary ballots in Columbia and Northumberland counties. In that resolution, Southern Columbia was calling for increases of 5.4 mills in Columbia and 4.46 in Northumberland.

At Monday's school board meeting, business manager Mike Sokoloski presented a new resolution for board approval to decrease Columbia County's rate and increase Northumberland County's rate.

"I got a letter from the state saying we had to do a rebalance of the rate," Sokoloski said Tuesday. "When you try a referendum like this in two counties, you have to balance out the impact so that it is fair for taxpayers in both counties."

Under the new resolution, Columbia County voters will see a 4.88 mill increase in addition to the 2.7 percent along with an Act I exception approved by the department. This will mean a $156.45 tax increase for a property assessed at the average assessment of $32,060 in the county.

In Northumberland County, the rate has jumped from 4.46 to 6.52 mills, for a tax increase of $155.01.

Officials said the revenue generated from this increased tax rate will be used to help balance the district's budget for 2014-2015.

Administration in consultation with the board will prepare a non-legal interpretive statement that will accompany the referendum and be approved by each county's bureau of elections.

Finance committee chairman Charles Porter said in March 16 districts have tried the referendum question in the past, and only one succeeded.

Budget site

To help keep the public informed on the budget and how the tax increase will affect it, Superintendent Paul Caputo has created an informational page on the budget on the district's website.

The 2014-2015 preliminary budget shows about a $1 million deficit for Southern Columbia. Expenses are $19,408,114 and revenue is $18,392,353.

One of the biggest expenses coming to the district is its contributions to the Public School Employees Retirement System, in which contributions have increased by four percent each year since 2010-2011 and will continue to do so until 2017.

This year's contribution is expected to be 16.93 percent of the payroll figures. In Southern Columbia's case, this will mean a payment of $1,549,344, an increase of $446,000 over last year's contribution. The projected payment for 2014-2015 is expected to top $2 million.

The page also shows the district has seen its fund balance drop from approximately $2.5 million to its current level of $1.013 million, up from $453,000 the year prior due to overdue tax money paid to the district.

Caputo said the site will continue to be updated with information until the final budget is passed.