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Tuscarora board to go forward with pool renovation

February 13, 2007|by JENNIFER FITCH

MERCERSBURG, Pa. - Proceeding with a half-million dollars worth of repairs to the pool at James Buchanan High School would ruin the chances of renovating the rest of the school, including heating and water systems that are "about shot," Tuscarora School District Business Manager Rick Kerr told the school board Monday.

A failed motion by the board, however, sent the pool project forward on a night when board votes also tentatively created a 4.86-mill property tax hike and .8 percent earned income tax increase for 2007-08.

The earned income tax increase - bringing the rate to 1.3 percent for the school district and .5 percent for the taxpayer's municipality - came from a seven-member panel's recommendation and will go before voters in May for their approval via Pennsylvania's Act 1 of 2006.

The voters' decision will affect the school district's final 2007-08 operating budget, which is presented at nearly $30 million in draft form.

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The pool factored into financial discussions at the board meeting when Kerr recommended delaying its renovation until that of the entire high school, which board members said could be fully under way in three to four years.

Holding onto the $500,000 earmarked for the pool would help ensure "we don't sock it to the taxpayers" in the foreseeable future, Kerr said.

"We need money in the bank to get a good bond rate and to pay off debt service," Kerr said.

He said the district has a C credit rating and is "just above junk bond status." Budgetary documents show the board is holding $125,000 in reserve in 2006-07.

"Does the board want to renovate this building?" Kerr asked. "If so, we have to get our house in order."

He alluded to lessons learned from the recently completed renovation of three buildings, including the middle school, and said Tuscarora "by far leads" Franklin County, Pa., school districts in capital projects.

Liabilities also come from Act 1, which presents a quarterly method of tax collection and requires voter approval on tax increases and large capital projects.

"I'm afraid if you do the pool, you ruin the chances of doing the rest of the renovations that are so badly needed for the whole facility," Kerr said, noting the pool is expected to leak rather than flood.

A motion by board member Janice Hawbaker to hold off until 2008 died from a 4-5 vote, with Hawbaker, Gale Bricker, Larry Buchanan and Clifford Smith in favor. Beckie Jo Higgins, Guy Hollenshead, Donald Piper, Jane Rice and Michael Rice dissented.

Michael Rice argued that the board had already greenlighted the project, the Red Cross program saves lives and the pool cannot wait. Higgins expressed concerns about safety, referring to rusty lockers and water leaks onto the electrical system.

The board considered taking the pool project to voters for approval this spring but plans to take the entire renovation package to them in 2008.

The tentative 4.86-mill property tax increase would bring the rate to 99.42 mills for 2007-08. Each mill of taxes generates $141,000 for the district, a recent increase of $2,000 courtesy of new and pricier homes.

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