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Volunteers could get break on Pa. taxes

March 10, 2006|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, PA.

The Chambersburg Area School District is considering a plan that could lower tax bills for those willing to do some volunteer work.

By serving as a tutor, bus monitor, special events usher, cafeteria aid or chaperone, or performing any of a number of other tasks, homeowners could earn credits to apply toward their real estate taxes, according to a draft plan for the Volunteer Tax Reduction program. For the past few months, the administration has been developing guidelines for a program to ease the tax burden of some low-income property owners, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Eric Michael said.

"We as a district feel, with increasing budgets and people on low or fixed incomes, this would be an appropriate way" for them to contribute to the district and receive a tax credit, Michael said Thursday. The draft plan will be discussed at the March 15 Curriculum and Policy Committee meeting and the district is seeking input from the community, he said.

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The idea for the program originally was aimed at senior citizens, but board members wanted to include other low-income residents, Michael said. To be eligible, a homeowner would have to earn $15,000 or less per year, be a full-time resident of the district and be willing to volunteer their services, according to the proposal.

Homeowners with certain disabilities defined by the Social Security Act also would qualify, according to the guidelines.

If the plan is finalized and approved by the school board, it could go into effect for the 2006-07 school year, Michael said.

The guidelines are not set in stone, but Michael said the proposal is for people to be able to earn tax credits of as much as $500. Participants would have to fill out an application and a needs assessment form and clear a criminal background check.

Eligible volunteers would also have to provide the district with results of a tuberculin test, according to the draft.

It would not be the first such program in Franklin County. The Greencastle-Antrim School District's Senior Citizens Tax Exchange Program is now in its 14th year, Business Office Secretary Diane K. Haugh said.

Haugh said 150 to 200 people a year receive rebates through the program, with volunteers receiving a credit of $6 an hour toward their rebates.

"We could give them to more, if more people applied," she said.

The district allows residents to receive a rebate up to the equivalent of 4 mills of the assessed value of their residence. One mill equals $1 for every $1,000 of assessed value on a property.

The Greencastle-Antrim program is open to residents who are 65 and older and the disabled, and also has a provision allowing renters to earn credit. The program does not have income eligibility guidelines, Haugh said.

A person may be unable or choose not to volunteer and still be eligible to receive a tax rebate, she said. Volunteers for the district can choose to have their hours credited to a friend, family member or some other eligible person, Haugh said.

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