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School board adopts preliminary budget

May 13, 2004|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - It took about two hours of debate and several votes, but the Chambersburg School Board on Wednesday night finally approved a preliminary budget with a smaller than previously recommended tax increase of 4.2 mills.

The $75.8 million budget will raise real estate taxes in the district from the current 58.33 mills to 62.53, including 0.9 mills in additional taxes dedicated to debt service to help pay for future building projects. Business Manager Rick Vensel said the increase will increase the taxes on a property with a market value of $100,000 about $62, to about $993 a year.

The board started with the administration's original recommendation to increase taxes 5.34 mills to raise an additional $2.8 million to balance the budget.

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Board member David Sciamanna then proposed an amendment to add the 0.9-mill increase dedicated to debt service. He said he was concerned that the board planned to make the first installment on more than $2 million in improvements at Lurgan Elementary by taking it out of the capital reserve fund.

"I think we need to fund the revenue stream to fund this plan year in and year out," Sciamanna said, referring to unfinished plans for the district's elementary and secondary school buildings.

The amendment passed on a 6-3 vote, and it appeared taxes were heading for a 6.24-mill increase, but Sciamanna came back with a proposal to lower the increase to an even 5 mills.

"My calculations are that we raised roughly $1 million more than we anticipated this year," Sciamanna said. "The taxpayers deserve that discount based on performance."

Board member Eugene Gayman said that would still be the highest percentage mill increase since the district was created in 1966. If that budget proposal was passed, Gayman said he wanted to see the administration come back with recommendations for cuts amounting to 2 mills before final passage in June.

"In order to cut 2 mills, you're going to have to cut programs. You're going to have to cut personnel," school Superintendent Edwin Sponseller said.

The district already has a number of vacancies to fill, he said.

The budget with the 5-mill increase failed to pass, as did a proposal to raise taxes 4.25 million and make up the gap between revenues and expenditures by reducing the transfers from the general fund balance to the capital reserve fund.

A proposal by board member Craig Musser to drop the tax increase to 4 mills was cutting into reserves too much for Sciamanna.

"We're just spending and not taxing to pay for it," Sciamanna said. "This is like a game of who can outbid each other. ... You can count me out."

Musser came back with the proposal for the 4.2 mill increase that addressed several board members' concerns about filling recommended positions and paying for building repairs.

Musser and Sciamanna were joined by board members Lori Leedy, Fred Rice, Renee Sharpe and Thomas Orndorf in approving the plan. Board President Stanley Helman, Gayman and Robert Helman cast the dissenting votes.

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

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