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Tuscarora budget to include tax hike

February 14, 2006|by JENNIFER FITCH

waynesboro@herald-mail.com

MERCERSBURG, Pa. - The Tuscarora School Board Monday night unanimously approved a $28.8 million preliminary budget that calls for an 11.5-mill real estate tax increase for residents of the greater Mercersburg area.

Since the school board opted into Pennsylvania's Act 72 last year, the 2006-07 school year budget will be sent to the state for approval.

The state caps any millage increase to 4.4 mills for Act 72 school districts. Program guidelines indicate the district will be permitted to raise taxes more than that, since it is in the midst of a construction project, said Jane Rice, school board president.

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However, a portion of the tax increase is expected to go before voters in May.

If the preliminary budget were to be approved as written, the additional taxes would bring the total property tax millage to 98.06.

Each mill of taxes represents $1 for every $1,000 of assessed property value for taxpayers.

Tuscarora School District serves students in the Borough of Mercersburg and several surrounding townships.

The budget "retains all our current services, activities and programs in place," said Superintendent Thomas Stapleford.

Significant increases in expenditures will come from salaries, special-education services and utilities, Stapleford said.

All-day kindergarten is on tap to begin in 2006-07. It will be entirely funded through an accountability block grant, Stapleford said.

The board will go to area organizations and probably hold a town meeting to seek support from voters for a tax increase, Rice said.

The board took time at the beginning of its meeting Monday to address rumors about accountability of the board, the district's financial status and the necessity of the tax increase.

Rice started the discussion by discounting specific rumors about the district falling under the control of the state or another school board, and then the board responded to dozens of other comments offered by taxpayers in attendance.

Stapleford showed a graph that supported the claim that, as he said, "the district is running out of money."

He said the district probably will break even or only slightly ahead this year, without money in reserve for what he called "catastrophic" events like the failure of a water system.

"If we're not educated and we don't know what's going on, we fall victim to all these rumors we've been talking about," said Rod Helfrick, president of the district's athletic boosters.

His group sat down with Stapleford three weeks ago to learn more about the budget. Stapleford offered to speak to other organizations.

"I would challenge any of your groups ... to get your groups together, get the community together, because we need to see what's happening with our budgets," Helfrick said to the crowd on hand.

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