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School tax hike looms in Chambersburg

April 15, 2004|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - The administration of the Chambersburg Area School District Wednesday unveiled a 2004-05 budget that will require another 5.34 mills in real estate taxes, a figure that could go higher if additional funding requests for programs and future construction are approved by the school board.

The proposed spending package, not including a $3.6 million beginning fund balance, is $71.7 million, which is 9.16 percent higher than the current budget, according to Business Manager Rick Vensel. Take away increases in federal and state subsidies to the district and local revenues would have to increase 6.54 percent, or approximately $4.4 million to balance the budget, Vensel said.

About $3.8 million of that would come from the proposed increase in taxes along with higher value for each mill collected because of a higher tax base, according to the draft budget. Vensel estimates the value of each mill to increase 2.45 percent from $516,764 to $529,425, primarily because of new construction.

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"With all the new construction you see in the area, you'd think the value of a mill would have grown more," Superintendent Edwin Sponseller said.

The property tax would increase from 58.33 to 63.67 mills, or $63.67 for every $1,000 in assessed value on a property, according to the budget. For a property with a market value of $100,000, the owner would pay an additional $82.77 or a total of almost $1,000 in school taxes.

The draft budget, however, does not include additional proposed general fund expenditures of $503,000 that the board of school directors must decide on between now and May 12, when it is scheduled to vote on preliminary approval of the budget. That would add about another mill if all seven requests, mostly for personnel, are approved.

Vensel said he will recommend that 1.25 mills be added to help the district pay debt service on future construction. That includes $2.2 million in upgrades at Lurgan Elementary School, which the district will have to pay for either through a bond issue or out of capital reserves.

"We're already talking a 7- or 8-mill increase," said Director Craig Musser, who criticized the administration for not proposing any cuts.

"We're not willing to cut any positions anywhere?" he asked.

Musser said his proposal earlier this year to close Letterkenny Elementary School was not reflected in the budget plan. "You should have had something on the table," he said.

Sponseller said most of the budget is for salaries, wages and benefits. Many other costs are determined by state and federal mandates, he said.

Vensel said it is difficult to cut positions without first showing the state there is a good reason, such as a substantial decrease in enrollment.

Director Eugene Gayman said the board could set a limit on a tax increase and instruct the administration to tailor a budget to that figure.

Vensel said last week that health-care costs would rise sharply. Wednesday he said the district's health care premiums will increase 36 percent, or about $1.7 million to more than $7.1 million.

Special education and alternative education combined will constitute 26 percent of new spending in 2004-05.

A public hearing on the proposed budget is scheduled for June 2, with final passage on June 16.

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