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Opinions vary on how to attack Waynesboro's $2 million deficit

March 29, 2011|By C.J. LOVELACE | cj.lovelace@herald-mail.com

WAYNESBORO, Pa. — Once again, the public comment period dominated a Waynesboro Area School Board meeting Tuesday night, and dissension among concerned taxpayers and teachers was more than apparent.

What started as a specially planned meeting to update the public and the board on the district’s current challenges in facing a nearly $2 million deficit turned into an open forum, often with high tempers.

Some speakers wanted taxes to be raised to help keep programs, like languages, cultural activities and reading programs for younger students, in next year’s budget. Others argued that those increases simply could not be met by some taxpayers, specifically lower-income residents and senior citizens on fixed incomes.

Under the state-mandated Act 1, which governs how much school districts can raise taxes in a given year, the district can raise taxes by 1.5 mills (1.8 percent) in 2011-12, unless it seeks exceptions, which the district has done. It could potentially raise taxes by 6.48 mills, according to officials.

One mill represents $1 for every $1,000 of value on a taxpayer’s home.

Board member Patricia Heefner said almost 50 percent of district taxpayers pay $1,400 or less a year, on average, in property taxes, which raised concerns from many who believe the increase would pay off in the long run for the children and the community.

Tonya Finney, a teacher who lives in Mont Alto (Pa.), urged the board to raise taxes so programs for children do not suffer.

“If we don’t raise taxes (by) 6.4 (mills), we’re going to have major cuts on our hands in this district,” Finney said. “We will bankrupt the education of our kids, and in so doing, bankrupt our community … We are talking about our future community here.”

Denny Hazen of Quincy (Pa.) spoke on behalf of the taxpayers who cannot afford the potential tax increases.

“You’ve got to take into consideration those people who can’t afford an increase,” he said. “There are people in this district that are living on $600 a month of Social Security for a couple with a small pension under $1,000, and those people simply can’t afford a 1.8 percent increase.”

Board members remain firm that addressing the deficit needs to be done with a combination of moderate tax increases and cuts.

Board member Leland Lemley closed the meeting by saying “the pain is going to be shared throughout by everyone, and there is a lot of pain to be shared.”

Waynesboro also is in the midst of a protracted dispute between its teachers union and the school board. The teachers are working under a contract that expired in June 2010. There was very little discussion of the impasse at Tuesday’s meeting, although the board room was full of people, many of them teachers.

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