A slip of a finger, a single keystroke, is saving taxpayers in one Bucks County school district $32 each in property taxes this year. But the typo also cost the school district about $895,000.
Officials at Pennsbury — a 10,000-student school district based in Falls Township — said late last week that a June 20 school-board resolution incorrectly set the millage rate for this school year at 170.076 mills. It should have been 171.076, one digit accidentally substituted for another by an interim business administrator while drafting the resolution’s language.
No one caught the error in time, because the actual millage rate was not read aloud during the June meeting. But technically, the language of the resolution is binding, according to Christopher Berdnik, the district’s current chief financial officer.
Berdnik said he discovered the typo after starting his position July 1. By then, it was too late: Tax bills had been mailed, and the district’s solicitor felt a retroactive change would open the door to litigation.
“Even if we could prevail, there are additional, epic logistical issues,” Berdnik wrote in a July memo to the school board that was distributed to the community at a meeting last week.
Still, Berdnik said Tuesday, he’s confident the flub won’t cause any disruption to the district’s operations.
“I have my eyes open to cover this gap, and we have 10 months to do so,” he said. “Certainly we’re not the only district where this happens, and with folks working at the last minute, that’s a recipe for disaster. But we want to get out in front of it in the final weeks before school starts.”
Berdnik said $700,000 of the $895,000 deficit has been accounted for, thanks to the actual value of properties being higher than initially assessed, and a higher-than-normal tax collection rate in the district. He said a resolution expected to be passed by the board this month will begin the process of refunding some of the district’s outstanding debt. The savings from that refund will help close the remaining gap.
Even the incorrect millage rate is still an increase — 1.5% — over last year’s.
The median assessment for homes in the Pennsbury School District is $32,067, according to an Inquirer analysis of real estate records. The district’s typo-set millage rate translates to a school tax bill of $5,454 for such a property, compared with $5,486 under the intended rate.