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Renovations at James Buchanan High could cost homeowners $228 to $388 a year

April 15, 2008|By JENNIFER FITCH

MERCERSBURG, Pa. -- Renovating James Buchanan High School could cost the average homeowner in the Tuscarora School District an additional $228 to $388 in taxes a year, the school board was told Monday.

The additional property taxes would be in place through 2030, according to Lauren Eby, a senior analyst with RBC Capital Markets, a firm that serves as the school district's financial advisers.

"We're here tonight to talk about a range of project sizes, from $30 million to $49 million," Eby said when starting her presentation for the school board and about 70 members of the public.

Eby presented various figures on the yearly impact for a homeowner with a house assessed at $18,240. That house would have a market value of $186,122, she said.

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An additional 12.45 mills of property taxes would be needed to pay for a $30 million high school renovation, while 21.3 mills would be needed to finance $49 million, which would be the estimated cost of a new school.

Each mill of taxes generates $147,000 in revenue for the district.

"We need to make smart decisions, smart choices. The decisions we make in the next month or two will affect students in this school for the next 30 years," said Clifford Smith, a member of the school board.

An architect has designed plans to upgrade electrical, plumbing, heating, air conditioning, and ventilation systems at the 35-year-old high school. A new pool and athletic fields are being considered by the school board.

"I can't imagine that anyone would debate that we have problems in this building with the water and the heating and air conditioning. ... I think those are the big items that need to be addressed," board member Janice Hawbaker said.

The efforts are expected to go before voters for financing approval with a special referendum this fall.

Several taxpayers spoke about the project at Tuesday's school board meeting, expressing support for the project, but concerns about its cost.

"This decision coming up is going to have more of an impact on the area than any other decision in my lifetime in the Tuscarora School District," resident Bill Landis said.

"I'm not sure the taxpayers can afford everything that's on the list, that's on the plan. ... I think we're going to need to downscale some of this, and the question is what gets downscaled," said Larry Funk, board member.

Several board members and residents expressed a desire for decisions to be made quickly, especially in light of rapidly rising costs for building materials.

Don Stoner, an area farmer and past board member, said he'd use a farm metaphor by saying that the board needs to "grab the bull by the horns."

"I'm embarrassed to be a member of the district and not be able to have home tennis matches," Stoner said, referring to the deteriorated courts.

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