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Board of Education adopts $94.9M budget to fund school district operations in the Valley for 2021-22 academic year

Hopewell Valley Regional School District Board of Education members have adopted a $94.9 million budget to fund the operation of the school district during the 2021-22 school year.

Board President Deborah Linthorst, Vice President Jessica Grillo and board members Adam Sawicki, Anita Williams Galiano, John Mason, Jenny Long and William Herbert voted “yes” on the measure to adopt the budget on April 26.

Board members Andrea Driver and Debra O’Reilly abstained during the vote.

Driver said she chose to abstain because she did not support the spending increase percentage of 1.75% from its introduction.

“That’s no secret,” Driver said in a statement. “I made it very clear from the start that I was not in favor.  My mind hadn’t changed about that. I still believe we would have been better off with the first budget presented of 1.9%.”

O’Reilly said her abstention was also a reflection of her dissatisfaction with the final spending increase number and issues with the process.

“I serve on the finance committee and was fully involved and supportive of the entire budget process and the 1.9% increase. I believed that the full board was as well,” she said in the statement. “In the 11th hour, on the night of the draft budget vote, it was suggested to change things. I felt and still do feel that the 1.9% was the best thing for the students of our district.

“It was a responsible budget with a 0% tax levy increase and allowed for maintenance projects and reparations due to COVID-19 – unfinished learning, mental health issues, additional staff needed for smaller class sizes, etc.”

The school district’s appropriations increased from $92.3 million in 2020-21 to $94.9 million in the 2021-22 budget.

“All existing services and programs are maintained. We do have some systematic staff reductions, which we had planned for,” Superintendent of Schools Thomas Smith said on April 26. “Health care – again I really have to commend the Board of Education; by moving to self-insurance our second biggest cost center has had a zero percent increase for the second year.”

The 2021-22 tax levy of $82.16 million is the amount property owners in the three municipalities of Hopewell Valley (Hopewell Township, Hopewell Borough, Pennington) are paying in school property taxes to support the district for 2021-22. The tax levy remained at the same amount from the adopted budget for 2020-21, which was also $82.16 million.

In Hopewell Borough, the school tax rate will be $1.74 per $100 of assessed valuation. The owner of a home assessed at $400,000 will pay about $6,960 in school taxes for 2021-22. The 2020-21 school tax rate was $1.71 per $100 of assessed valuation. The owner of a home that was assessed at $400,000 paid $6,840 in school taxes.

In Hopewell Township, the school tax rate will be $1.78 per $100 of assessed valuation. The owner of a home assessed at $475,000 will pay about $8,455 in school taxes for 2021-22. The tax rate in 2020-21 budget was $1.72 per $100 of assessed valuation. The owner of a home with the same assessed value paid $8,170 in school taxes.

In Pennington, the school tax rate will be $1.62 per $100 of assessed valuations. The owner of a home assessed at $484,000 will pay about $7,840 in school taxes in 2021-22. The tax rate remained unchanged from the 2020-21 budget which was also $1.62 per $100 of assessed valuations.

“Why did we have increases in Hopewell Borough and Hopewell Township? It is largely driven by the ratables. Hopewell Borough had seen an $88,000 increase to their ratables, which means that they would take up a greater share,” said Robert Colavita, district business administrator. “Hopewell Township’s increase is driven largely by about $109 million decrease to their ratables. They have less property to divide that tax levy over. Pennington Borough, they are seeing a zero cent increase because their ratables increased by more than $5 million.”

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.

For appropriations, the HVRSD budget includes $40.6 million on regular instruction, $16.01 million on employee benefits, $15.2 million towards special education, $6.95 million for operations and maintenance, $5.76 million on debts service, and $4.89 million for transportation.

According to the budget document in addition to the tax levy, the revenues side of the budget includes $4.89 million in state aid, $3.54 million in total fund balance (savings), $2.5 million from capital reserve, and $918,136 from federal sources.

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