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Some residents want full tax hike restored

June 19, 2003|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Last month, the Chambersburg School Board voted to reduce the size of a proposed real estate tax increase for the 2003-04 fiscal year, but many of those who spoke at Wednesday night's budget hearing wanted the full tax increase restored.

"I'm here tonight to ask you to increase taxes for needed programs and not take money from the fund balance," said parent and teacher Carole Kirkpatrick. She asked the board not to cut funding for technology, art, music and other programs.

Kirkpatrick said cutting technology could mean parent teacher organizations would pay for new wiring and computers. Cuts in art and music, she said, could lead to students dropping out.

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"These are programs that may keep some of our students enrolled in high school," Kirkpatrick said.

Director Michael Finucane and Superintendent Edwin Sponseller pointed out that the $65.5 budget does not cut any programs or technology upgrades at the high school and older elementary schools.

At a June 4 budget workshop, Sponseller, at the request of board members, produced a list of possible cuts including elementary school technology. Some board members criticized the inclusion of the technology program on the list at that meeting.

"You have a public that is eager for you to move forward," said Susan Berrier, who asked the board to reinstate the administration's proposed tax increase of 2.96 mills.

The board voted for a 1.42-mill increase, which would raise the average property owner's taxes by about $24, according to the budget proposal.

"I have the $16 difference and I'm willing to give it to you now," Berrier said.

When the administration presented the original budget, however, it estimated a 2.96-mill increase would raise the average tax bill by $50.

The preliminary budget plan takes about $368,000 from the capital reserve fund and $421,000 from the fund balance to make up a shortfall between revenues and expenditures. Drawing on those funds drew criticism from resident Jim Wilhelm.

"That capital reserve fund balance is going to have a big draw on it in the not too distant future," Wilhelm said. He said he would not mind a tax increase dedicated to building the capital reserve for new buildings.

"If you want good quality oats, you must expect to pay the price," Wilhelm said. "If you will take the oats after they have passed through the horse, they are considerably cheaper."

"As a senior citizen, I don't mind paying the extra tax ... so go for it," said Mary Louise LaGrassa.

While most of the dozen or so people who spoke favored raising taxes, the opinion was not unanimous. About 60 residents attended the hearing.

"Mental arithmetic is out the window," according to Peg Eyer, who said computers are eroding some students' skills.

"What we need back in our schools today is discipline," she said.

Final passage of the budget is scheduled for Monday, June 30, which is also the deadline for the state to pass a budget. About 38 percent of the district's revenues come from the state, but Sponseller said some legislators are not confident the General Assembly and Gov. Ed Rendell will have reached an agreement by then.

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