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Greencastle residents speak out against a possible tax increase

Greencastle-Antrim School District facing shortfall of $1.5 million for 2011-12 budget

January 20, 2011|By ROXANN MILLER | roxann.miller@herald-mail.com
  • Thursday's Greencastle-Antrim School Board meeting drew a crowd of about 50 residents, including some who wanted to discuss the school district's pending budget shortfall.
By Roxann Miller, Staff Writer

GREENCASTLE, Pa. — Greencastle-Antrim School District taxpayers showed up in force at a school board meeting Thursday night to protest a draft budget that could include a significant tax increase.

The school district is facing a shortfall of $1.5 million for its 2011-12 budget. Earlier this month, the board approved seeking an exemption from the state to increase the amount of taxes it is allowed to raise to close the budget gap.

If approved, a  tax hike of up to12.6 mills could potentially mean huge tax increases for residents, officials have said.

District Business Manager Dick Lipella said an increase to 12.6 mills would mean a taxpayer paying $2,000 in annual property taxes  would pay $277 more per year. A $3,000 yearly tax bill would increase $396, and a $4,000 tax bill would be $528 more, he said previously.

A mill is one dollar per $1,000 of assessed property value.

Before the public had a chance to comment Thursday, Board President Joel Fridgen read a statement to "clear up any misunderstanding."

"... citizens have the impression that the mills are increasing by 12.1 (mills). This is not true ... Just as last year, the administration will use the months of February and March to work on the draft budget. The finance committee will also be involved in a budget review," Fridgen read.

"No vote has been taken to increase mills. All the board did by its vote at the last board meeting was to give ourselves flexibility to consider all available options as opposed to being locked into an Act 1 index of 1.7 mils."

Despite the district's shortfall, Fridgen said the district will focus on trimming the budget as it did last year when it cut $1.5 million in expenses.

Duane Kinzer was one of 50 residents who attended the Greencastle-Antrim School Board meeting Thursday to protest a tax increase, but only four addressed the board.

Speaking as a property owner and a businessman, Kinzer asked the board not to raise taxes next year.

"The economy is in the pits; people are unemployed and doing jobs they're not used to doing," said Kinzer.

Initially, six people were to address the school board with each limited to speak for three minutes. But, several people gave their time to Kinzer, who spoke for a total of 14 minutes.

"Unemployment is in double digits," Kinzer said. "I'd like to see you build the addition (middle school/high school renovation project) with a 30-year bond to level my taxes."

Mike Baker of Greencastle told the board that he couldn't afford a tax increase.

"I'm on a fixed income, and my wife recently lost her job," Baker said. "I can't afford to pay $2,000 to $3,000 more in taxes a year."

He suggested that the board seek bonds from the federal government.

"I am pleading, do not raise the taxes," he said.

Al Jimick of Greencastle also is retired and on a fixed income.

"Everybody is trying to hold the line on taxes," he said. "Raising taxes every year is not the solution."

Former educator Jim Farley, also of Greencastle, urged the board to be "fiscally scrupulous in progressing through the budget process."

For many homeowners, he said, "it's between paying taxes and eating."

The current index is 1.6 mills, which is not enough to run the district next year, let alone fund the middle school/high school renovation project, according to Lipella.

So, the district is filing for an exemption from the state Department of Education.

The exemption, if approved, would enable the district to increase the index to close up the $1.5 million shortfall in its 2011-12 $33.47 million budget.

Total expenditures for the district are estimated at $33,474,270 with revenues at $31,640,606 for next year.

According to the draft budget, Lipella said the district needs 8.5 mills in operating expenses alone. To proceed with the middle school/high school renovation project, another 4.1 mills, or a total of 12.6 mills, would be required.

The board must adopt the preliminary budget by Feb. 16, which means the board is slated to vote on the preliminary budget at its Feb. 3 meeting.

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