Site last updated: Sunday, July 21, 2024

Log In

Reset Password
Butler County's great daily newspaper

Buffalo Township to see 3.56% tax increase

STEB complaints prompt talk of legislation

BUFFALO TWP — As board directors of Freeport Area School District approved the 2024-25 budget with a 5-3 vote to include a 3.56% tax increase to Buffalo Township on Wednesday, June 12, they discussed funding needs in the district, as well as the tax discrepancy between communities in Butler and Armstrong counties.

Where residents of Buffalo Township will see a 6.07 mill increase, raising the rate from 170.30 to 176.37, Freeport Borough and South Buffalo Township in Armstrong County will see a tax decrease of 10.42%, lowering their millage rate from 69.02 to 61.83.

This would translate to an annual increase of about $135 for a Buffalo Township resident and a decrease of about $245 for a resident of Armstrong County.

The calculations are determined by the State Tax Equalization Board, or STEB, through a process some board directors — and members of the public — described as unfair Wednesday.

With properties assessed differently across counties, the tax equalization board operates under the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development to determine the “aggregate market value of taxable real property in each political subdivision and school district throughout Pennsylvania,” according to its website.

“Butler County is 75% of the value,” said board director Daniel Ritter. “And Armstrong County is only 25% ... now, Butler County keeps growing as a whole. Not just Buffalo Township — they see all of Butler County.”

“(Butler County) has a lot of businesses — Mars and Cranberry,” Ritter said, stating he disagreed with the STEB equalization formula.

Freeport Borough resident Jackie Gaughan said because the majority of district schools are located in Butler County, the cost of taxes primarily should be shouldered by the county.

“When 75% of residents live in Buffalo Township, they are going to foot 75% of the bill,” she said.

Board president Gary Risch, Jr., who said he grew up in Buffalo Township but lives in Armstrong County, said he would like the tax burden spread over both counties more equally.

Miranda Virone, a community member and parent, asked whether the school district could lobby local and state officials about the tax equalization process, to which superintendent Ian Magness and Risch answered they already have.

In August 2023, the school board passed a resolution urging legislators to change mandatory millage rebalancing requirements under School Code Section 672.1. So Freeport — which is one of 88 multi-county districts in the state — would be able to equalize taxes between counties.

“All we’re asking for with our legislators is ... if your STEB works for you, and you’re a district ... and you like your STEB, keep your STEB,” Magness said. “All we’re asking for is a fifth option that would allow us locally to make the decision to spread (taxes) equitably.”

“It’s up to our local representatives in Harrisburg to assist us, and we know we have other local school districts struggling with the very same thing,” Magness said. “We will continue to advocate on behalf of our district, our taxpayers, especially in Buffalo Township ... for fairness and relief as it relates to an equitable share in the (tax) burden.”

The budget

The budget was approved with Michael Huth, John Haven and Gregory Selinger in opposition. Christine Davies, Sylvia Maxwell, Daniel Ritter, Dino DiGiacobbe and Risch voted in favor of the budget, which includes expenditures of $38,447,833 and revenues of $37,759,734.

Bradley Walker, director of finance and operations, said the district will reach into its fund balance to close the deficit.

Addressing the tax increase to Buffalo Township, both Davies and Maxwell noted repairs, education costs and teacher salaries as expenses.

“Our buildings have to be fixed,” Davies said.

Earlier in the meeting, John Haven discussed different options for renovating the high school. Window and HVAC repairs alone would climb to about $15 million. The high school also is in need of roof repairs, Risch later said.

Walker previously said the district faced rising health insurance costs, contractual salary increases and the increased costs of utilities, transportation, supplies and out-of-district placements.

More in Education

Subscribe to our Daily Newsletter

* indicates required