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Greencastle-Antrim taxes to rise

June 04, 2010|By KATE S. ALEXANDER

GREENCASTLE, PA. -- As neighboring school districts continue cutting programs to avoid raising taxes, the Greencastle-Antrim School Board voted Thursday to raise its real estate tax rate an additional 3.2 mills for the 2010-11 fiscal year.

The school board approved its budget at $32.4 million with 94.9 mills of property taxes in a 7-1 vote. Board Member Brian Hissong dissented and Board President Arnie Jansen was absent.

The board raised taxes the maximum allowed by state law to help increase revenue for the coming year and mitigate the future impact of financing a multimillion-dollar building project, Business Manager Richard Lipella said.

In Greencastle, one mill of taxes costs the average homeowner about $20, said Superintendent Greg Hoover.

Expenditures are expected to exceed revenue by about $923,000 for the district in 2010-11, Lipella said.

School Board members and district staff shrunk the budget shortfall from an initially projected $2.4 million by making judicious reductions, said board member Joel Fridgen.

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No programs were cut from the budget, but some were trimmed, including drivers education where the on-the-road portion was dropped, Lipella said.

A few staff positions were also cut through attrition and the closing of the district Earned Income Tax office, he said.

However, only two teaching positions were eliminated from the budget, he said.

Lipella said both were grant-funded and were eliminated after the grants expired.

Greencastle-Antrim will dip into its $4.2 million fund balance to cover the $923,000 shortfall, Lipella said.

Hoover said the fund balance is in place for exactly this purpose.

"I look at it this way, we use the fund balance for rainy-day situations," he said. "Well, it is raining now."

The board downplayed projected revenues for 2010-11 hoping that the state will provide more funding than anticipated, Hoover said.

Thursday's vote adopted a final budget, but Lipella noted that the budget is still dynamic and will continue to adapt to revenue and expenditure changes.

Some board members said they are not happy with a $923,000 shortfall, but most were willing to pass the budget and continue to address expenditures throughout the year.

"We still have to pull $900,000 out of reserves so let's not celebrate that," said Fridgen. "There is more work to be done and next year it will be worse."

Increasing taxes to the maximum allowed by law has been part of the budget since January, Fridgen said.

No residents have openly objected to the increase because most people understand why the increase is necessary, Shindle said.

By increasing taxes now, the district is avoiding a major tax spike when it borrows money to fund its renovation project, Lipella said.

The board also continued discussions Thursday on its renovation project.

Architect Mark Barnhardt, senior vice president of EI Associates of Harrisburg, Pa. presented the board with a modified concept plan capped at $21 million.

Much of the original plan would have to be put on hold to keep the project at $21 million, which is less than half of the original estimate of $54.1 million, he said.

The secondary schools media center, the field house, upgrades to the primary school, the elementary schools and the athletic facilities, and a few classrooms were removed from the phase 1 concept to meet the cap, Barnhardt said.

The scaled-back concept still included connecting the middle school and high school, adding 22 classrooms to the district, renovating the cafeteria and moving the district office to the secondary schools building, he said.

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