Hopewell Valley Regional school district adopts 2024-25 budget with tax increase

The Hopewell Valley Regional School District administration building in Pennington.

Hopewell Valley residents will see tax increases after the Hopewell Valley Regional Board of Education’s adoption of its $102.6 million budget.

The budget, which funds school district operations for the 2024-25 school year, was adopted after a public hearing was held on April 29.

The budget was introduced in March.

“There is a 3-cent increase to Hopewell Borough, 5-cent increase to Hopewell Township, and 10-cent (increase) to Pennington,” said Robert Colavita, business administrator for Hopewell Valley Regional school district (HVRSD).

Pennington’s projected tax rate increase is $1.86 per $100 of assessed valuation. The owner of an average home assessed at $488,000 will pay $9,076 in school taxes.

Hopewell Township’s projected tax rate is $1.80 per $100 of assessed valuation. The owner of an average home assessed at $450,000 will pay $8,100 in school taxes.

Hopewell Borough’s projected tax rate is $1.85 per $100 of assessed valuation. The owner of an average home assessed at $400,000 will pay $7,400 in school taxes.

The 2024-25 projected tax levy is $88.9 million and the amount property owners from the three municipalities in Hopewell Valley will pay in school property taxes to support the district.

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.

The proposed appropriations for the budget include: $43.6 million towards regular instruction (including co-curricular athletics); $19.7 million on staff benefits; $17.9 million on special education; $7.6 million on operations and maintenance; $6.1 million on transportation; $4.1 million on debt service; $2.9 million on central office and district services; and $348,590 (equipment, facilities acquisitions and construction services, and interest deposit to capital reserve).

Revenues proposed for the budget outside of the tax levy include: $7.4 million from state aid, $3.9 million from the fund balance (savings); $1.4 million from miscellaneous (interest on savings, tuition revenues, facility rentals); and $882,890 from federal aid.

“Our use of surplus in the budget is climbing close to $4 million,” Colavita said. “It is down a little since last year but still a little too high for my taste. It means if we don’t generate surplus then there is a hole in our budget.”

When it comes to state aid, a lot of districts this year were hit with unexpected state aid reductions, Colavita said.

“A lot of it is being driven on the value and wealth in your communities,” he said, noting state aid is part of the budget, but not a ‘huge part.’ “It may seem unfair but that is the way they are doing it right now. I get nervous for us.

“We have new developments coming in that will increase the value of our community, so we need to look at our budgets going forward and that is what we tried to do this year. We don’t know what the future will hold regarding state aid.”

The cost drivers for this budget – inflation; curriculum and instruction; transportation; insurance; facilities and maintenance; special education; staffing; technology, anticipated growth of Hopewell Township, and utilizing savings to balance the budget.

“(Transportation) budget continues to grow,” Colavita added. “This year the increase for contracted transportation routes was almost 6%. That is a state driven number. So, we have to either go along with it or go out to bid again to see if they don’t come in higher.”

He provided an example of the rising transportation costs the school district has faced.

… The cost of an athletic bus run to take a team from Hopewell to West Windsor for a baseball game used to be $250 to $300 a trip,” Colavita noted. “They are $725 a trip now per bus, per day. We run five to eight buses per day including the weekends.”