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Chambersburg taxpayers might see 5-mill tax hike

March 13, 2006|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - An ambitious building program, combined with an expanding student population and negotiations on a new teachers' contract, could mean an increase in real estate taxes of about 5 mills in the 2006-07 school year for property owners in the Chambersburg Area School District.

"Part of that is a building program and you can see this moving very rapidly," Business Manager Rick Vensel said Friday. Reconstructing Trojan Stadium at a cost of about $6 million will soon begin and bids on an expansion of Hamilton Heights Elementary go out this month, followed by bids for a new Fayetteville Elementary in April, he said.

The district also will build a new U.L. Gordy Elementary, has entered into an option to buy land for a new Grandview Elementary and still has to tackle the issue of building a new high school and reconfiguring the district's secondary schools.

Almost 2 mills of the projected increase is for debt service on a bond issue to finance construction, Vensel said. The 1.95 mills represents an increase of approximately $1 million.

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The student population growth that prompted the building program also means more teachers. On Wednesday, the board approved creating three new positions at Faust Junior High School and Vensel said five more positions have been requested for the district's elementary program.

Paying for all the new educational program requests would require about 2.25 mills, or about $1.2 million, Vensel said.

The district's 2005-06 tax rate is 67 mills, or $67 on every $1,000 of assessed value on a property. The 2006-07 budget must be approved by June 30.

Talks are under way with the Chambersburg Area Education Association on a new contract for the district's 517 teachers, whose current contract expires June 30, Vensel said. To keep the real estate tax increase in the range of 5 mills means keeping "salary increases at historic rates of increase," or about 3 percent, Vensel said.

There are some wild cards heading into the budgeting process, Vensel said. Last year, the school board voted against opting in to Act 72, a property tax relief plan rejected by most of Pennsylvania's 501 school districts.

The General Assembly is trying to come up with a tax reform plan, but nothing is certain at this point, Vensel said.

"There have been so many (tax plans) proposed, it's been very difficult to keep up with them," he said. If legislation imposing requirements on districts is enacted before June 30, "it would be chaotic," he said.

The district also is awaiting the outcome of litigation as to whether nursing homes and retirement communities are subject to taxation under Pennsylvania's Purely Public Charities Act. Last month, a trial regarding Menno Haven's nursing facilities was held in Franklin County Court, although the judge has yet to issue a decision.

If court rulings favor nursing homes and retirement communities, the loss of revenue for Chambersburg could be up to $850,000, Vensel said.

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