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It's official: Chambersburg board OKs $116 million plan

September 02, 2004|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - The Chambersburg School Board Wednesday voted 6-3 to approve a $116 million debt resolution that will increase real estate taxes to service the debt by an estimated 11 mills over six years to pay for a new high school and two elementary schools.

Under the resolution, the district will issue bonds for $10 million, $13 million, $30 million, $33 million, $25 million and $5 million between 2005 and 2009. Mill rates would increase an average of more than 1.8 mills each year between 2005-06 and 2010-11.

The last of the bonds will be paid off in 2029, Business Manager Rick Vensel said.

The district's current mill rate is 62.53 mills, according to the budget passed in June. The additional 11.05 mills for debt service would not include any additional increases for district operations during those years, nor does it figure in any tax relief district residents might receive as a result of Pennsylvania's new tax reform law, which is linked to revenues generated by slot machines.

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Passage of the resolution came two days before a deadline imposed by the tax reform law. Had the board not acted by Friday, it could have been forced to go to voters for approval of any tax increase that exceeded an inflationary index set by the state.

Board members Craig Musser, Robert Helman, Lori Leedy, Thomas Orndorf, David Sciamanna and Renee Sharpe supported the motion. Board President Stanley Helman and board members Eugene Gayman and Fred Rice cast the dissenting votes.

"I think it is clearly being done by this district and other districts to circumvent the referendum," Stanley Helman said before the vote. He said the exception in the law was meant for districts already well into the planning phase for new projects.

"It's obvious that those who are pushing this do not believe the community will support this," said Gayman. He said some board members "had their minds made up before they were even sworn in to this board" last year.

Musser said the district could have been forced to ask voters to approve a referendum for a 9-mill increase in taxes in one year if it wanted to get a high school built.

"We already know we have a lot of work to do on our buildings," Sharpe said. She and Leedy said the comments they had received from the public were overwhelmingly supportive of moving ahead with the building plan.

Leedy said the plan for a new high school for grades nine through 12 was in line with the recommendations of a task force that held a series of meetings earlier this year to look at the district building requirements.

On July 21, the board voted 5-4 in favor of a plan for a new high school on a new site. The plan would have converted the high school and junior high school to middle schools, turned Chambersburg Area Middle School into an elementary school and reduced the number of elementary schools from 18 to 12.

The cost of the plan, which would have included renovations to several schools, was estimated at $132.6 million by an architectural firm hired by the district. Last week, however, Vensel said the district's current borrowing limit was $117 million and the board authorized the administration to advertise a resolution to pay for an $83 million high school, two elementary schools at about $14 million each and $5 million for land acquisition.

"I don't want people to get the impression we eliminated things from the plan," Musser said. How much of the other secondary and elementary improvements can be included "depends on how well we work within our budget," he said.

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