Wyoming Area passes final budget, approves teacher contract


EXETER With a packed agenda at Tuesday’s monthly meeting, the Wyoming Area School Board approved a new budget for 2022-23 with the maximum property tax increase allowed by law, a new a new 2-year contract with the teachers union giving annual raises of about 2%, and new borrowing for a variety of projects on existing facilities.

The budget projects spending at $43 million and raised property taxes by 4.6 percent, the highest allowed under the state law known as Act 1, which provided tax relief for qualified property owners and set up annual tax hike limits that can only be exceeded through voter referendum or with state exceptions.

With one member absent, the vote was 6-2, with board members Leo Pribula and David Alberigi voting no.

The budget raises taxes in Luzerne County to 18.7392 mills and in Wyoming County to 91.1558 mills. A mill is a $1 tax for every $1,000 of assessed property value. Business Manager Tom Melone provided a number of reasons the increase is needed, from declining assessed property value to some substantial increases in salaries and benefits, special education expenses, and growing numbers of students enrolling in cyber chart schools, which get a payment per pupil from the district’s revenues.

Melone noted some of the tax increase will be offset by an increase the amount in the annual homestead/farmstead exclusion. The exemptions for those paying taxes on their own homes or farms are funded by the state with money from legalized gambling, and are provided as a reduction in property tax bills for those who own their own homes or farms. Higher gambling revenues this year has raised the amount of the tax savings in Wyoming Area, from nearly $94 in 2021-22 to $119 for 2022-23.

The collective bargaining agreement with the Wyoming Area Education Association runs from Sept. 1 of this year to Aug. 31, 2024. Solicitor Jarrett Ferentino said there are no major changes in benefits and that the salary increase is about 2% each year.

The resolution on construction project financing authorized “certain actions “ in connection with the issuance of new borrowing for “all or any of the following: (1) the design, acquisition, construction, installation, furnishing and equipping of alterations, renovations, additions and improvements to existing facilities of the School District, including, but not limited to, the School District’s athletic facilities; (2) the purchase of capital equipment for use in or in connection with the facilities of the School District; and (3) paying the costs and expenses of issuance of the debt.”

The board voted on changing policies regarding hiring of a superintendent, assistant superintendent and district staff. The wording added added “No employee shall be hired who is related to any member of the Board or Administrator as defined in statute, (father, mother, brother, sister, husband, wife, son, daughter, step father, step mother, step child, grandparents, grandchild, nephew, niece, first cousin, son-in-law, daughter-in law, sister-in-law, brother-in-law, parent-in-law, foster child, uncle or aunt).

With Board member Lara Best absent, the vote ended in a 4-4 tie, which means it failed. Voting no were Toni Valenti, Leonard Pribula, Joseph Kopko, and David Alberigi.

The board also:

• Accepted the resignations of Special Education Director Vanessa Nee and music teacher Anthony Huntington

• Appointed Dehey McAndrew to continue professional services for three accounting activities related to employee benefits: Consulting and support services for employer payroll deduction for the coming fiscal year at a cost of $4,462; for administration of 403(b) payroll deductions for tax-sheltered annuity plans at $3,548 plus a monthly fee of $1.59 per contributor per payroll period; and for administration of IRC 403(b) post-severance plans for the current calendar year at a fixed annual fee of $2,104 with a variable fee of $9.75 per associated retiree per year. These plans involve employer contributions to a 403(b) plan for up to five years after employment ends.

Hired BBD, LLP to perform the annual single and tax collector audits for the 2021-22, 2022-23 and 2023-24 school years at annual costs, respectively, of $21,000, $21,500 and $22,000.

Approved payment of $136,804 to Troy mechanical, Inc. for air purification.

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