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School directors see tax hikes in district's future

April 08, 2004|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. - The Chambersburg School Board has asked the administration for some idea of how much money to include in the 2004-05 budget for a construction program, but administration officials say they first need to know what kind of building program the board wants.

A draft of next year's school budget will be unveiled at the Wednesday, April 14, meeting of the board, but a 45-member task force looking at the district's facilities needs is not scheduled to wrap up its work until May 18 and a budget has to be passed before June 30.

Under one scenario done by Business Manager Rick Vensel two years ago, a building program that would include $13 million for upgrades at the high school, $80 million for a new high school, upgrades at two existing elementary schools and four new elementary schools like the one being built in Scotland, Pa., would cost more than $150 million.

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The price tag to fund debt service on the bonds that would need to be issued to fund that scenario is 1.25 mills added to real estate taxes in each of the next 10 years, Vensel said. A mill generates about $525,000 in revenue, Vensel said.

"This is a wonderful time to go into debt if you want to do it," because of low interest rates, Vensel told the board.

The upgrade of the high school is largely completed, but Vensel said his scenario is essentially outdated since the board, which added three new members in December, voted to have the task force assist in coming up with a master plan for the district.

One construction project the board must consider in the upcoming budget is a $2.2 million renovation of Lurgan Elementary.

"Without any action of the board, it will be paid for through the capital reserve account," which will be approximately $5 million next year, said Superintendent Edwin Sponseller. "It would be our recommendation we borrow the money," he said.

If the district borrows money now, it does so at the risk that the task force will recommend a different construction program, Director Craig Musser said.

The money would be borrowed in stages as needed for different projects, Vensel said.

"At this point, we don't know if we're going to spend $100 million, $150 million or $200 million," board President Stanley Helman said.

"The budget's got to reflect some kind of scenario," said Director Dave Sciamanna.

"In order to make that scenario, you have to make a commitment to what you're going to do," Vensel said.

"This is an issue the board needs to consider in the adoption of this year's budget," Sponseller said.

Whatever long-term building plan is adopted by the board of directors, other programs in 2004-05 have to be funded by additional tax dollars, Sponseller said.

"We're looking at somewhere between 5 and 6 mills for the budget," he said.

Real estate taxes are currently 56.79 mills to fund the district's share of its budget of more than $65 million. A mill equals $1 for every $1,000 of assessed value on a property.

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