Hopewell Valley Regional Board of Education slates public hearing on budget

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The Hopewell Valley Regional School District Board of Education has introduced an $89.7 million budget to fund the operation of the school district during the 2019-20 school year.

A public hearing on the budget will be held at 7:30 p.m. on May 6 at the administration building, which is located at 425 S. Main St., Pennington Borough.

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Residents may comment on and ask questions about the budget during that meeting on May 6.

Board President Alyce Murray and board members Peter DiDonato, Deborah Linthorst, Debra O’Reilly, Susan Pollara, and Sarah Tracy voted “yes” on a motion to introduce the budget during a meeting on March 18

The board’s vice president, Adam Sawicki, cast the dissenting vote and said he could not support the budget, which proposed a significant reduction in the use of surplus funds (savings) as revenue.

“I do not believe we need to take the immediate severe reduction in our use of surplus this year,” Sawicki said. “I have advocated for a more gradual, measured approach to do that. I think the tax levy increasing by 5.27% this year is going to be difficult for our local residents, especially those on a fixed income. That is a pretty significant increase.”

During the 2018-19 school year, administrators used $4.88 million from the district’s surplus fund as revenue in the budget. For 2019-20, administrators will use $2.74 million from the surplus fund as revenue in the budget.

Residential and commercial property owners in the three municipalities that make up the school district –Hopewell Borough, Hopewell Township and Pennington Borough–will be asked to pay a total tax levy of $81.2 million to support the $89.7 million budget for the upcoming school year.

District administrators said the tax levy has increased by $3.8 million from 2018-19. The total tax levy for 2018-19 was $77.4 million.

According to the state Department of Education, the school district’s state aid will be increased from $3.24 million in 2018-19 to $3.59 million in 2019-20 – an increase of $351,000.

In Hopewell Borough, the school tax rate will be $1.08 per $100 of assessed valuation. The owner of a home assessed at $404,000 will pay about $4,363 in school taxes in 2019-20.

In Hopewell Township, the school tax rate will be 60 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. The owner of a home assessed at $494,000 will pay about $2,964 in school taxes in 2019-20.

In Pennington Borough, the school tax rate will be 36 cents per $100 of assessed valuations. The owner of a home assessed at $464,000 will pay about $1,670 in school taxes in 2019-20.

School taxes are one item on a property owner’s total tax bill, which also includes municipal taxes and county taxes.

The amount an individual pays in property taxes is determined by the assessed value of his home and/or property, and the tax rate that is set by each taxing entity.

In commenting on the 2019-20 budget, Superintendent of Schools Thomas Smith said that “to get to this point we have reduced on the elementary level five full-time staff members, which will be for next year.

“We will eliminate under-subscribed classes at Hopewell Valley Central High School. There is still a discussion about defining what under-subscribed is and what that number is. We have a number of classes running in the single digits (of students) at the high school.

“There will also be a 50% reduction in non-mandated summer hours. Those are programs or services we might provide to our families and parents over the summer,” Smith said.

He said the reductions that are on the table would amount to more than $400,000.

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