Greencastle-Antrim school budget to include tax increase

June 16, 2011|By ROXANN MILLER |

GREENCASTLE, Pa. — Homeowners in the Greencastle-Antrim School district can expect to pay more in property taxes next year.

It took three tries before the school board finally adopted the 2011-12 budget by a slim 5-4 vote on Thursday.

In order to pass the budget, absent board member Michael Shindle was contacted in State College, Pa., to cast his vote over the telephone.

Board members Howard Ritchey (also voting via telephone), William Thorne, Melinda Cordell and Joel Fridgen voted in favor of the budget.

Casting dissenting votes were board members Eric Holtzman, Paul Politis, Kristy Faulkner and Brian Hissong.

The average increase in real estate taxes in the district will be about $70 after the board approved the $32,450,918 budget that includes a 3-mill real estate tax increase.

The current mill rate is 94.9. The new mill rate is 97.9 mills. A mill represents $1 for every $1,000 of a property's assessed value.

Superintendent C. Gregory Hoover said this year’s budget has been one for the record books.

“Never, ever before did the state take money away. If you look at our expenditures over last year they are only an $80,000 difference,” Hoover said. “But we had to cut almost $2 million and raise taxes to equal $80,000 because of what was taken away from us from the state.

“It really had us scrambling,” he said.

During Thursday’s meeting, budget discussions soured when Politis expressed concerns about raising activity fees (also called “pay to play”) in a $32 million budget.

In May, the school board voted 5-3 to increase the fee for some activities in the Greencastle-Antrim School District from $30 this year to $100.

“Pay to play raises almost $20,000 in a budget of $32,450,918 that’s a 233 percent tax increase on the parents of every kid who comes forward to represent his school. It’s a small amount, but I think it’s against our stated ‘children first’ philosophy,” Politis said.

He said he would vote no for the current budget.

Holtzman said he appreciated the steps teachers, support staff and administrators have taken to help balance the budget, but he can’t support the budget in its current form.

“We can’t continue to raise the tax rate to a point where people are going to have a difficult time affording it,” Holtzman said.

Fridgen asked Business Manager Dick Lipella what would happen if five board members didn’t vote in favor of the budget.

Lipella said they would continue to negotiate until they had five votes because the budget must be adopted by June 30.

Hoover added: “Or, the district would shut down.”

The original budget proposal was amended cutting out $20,000 to roll back the activity fee to 2010-11 levels.

The motion on the amended budget failed with six no votes (Faulkner, Fridgen, Hissong, Holtzman, Ritchey and Thorne) and two yes votes (Politis and Cordell).

The original budget motion was voted on again, tying 4-4 with Fridgen, Thorne, Cordell and Ritchey voting yes. Faulkner, Politis, Holtzman and Hissong voting no.

Fridgen asked those who voted no to explain their vote.

“I have a hard time raising 3 mills and raising $70 more (in activity fees) when there are other things we could have looked at, like outsourcing. I don’t think we delved into it,” Faulkner said.

Holzman, Hissong and Politis had issues with raising taxes and Politis was against increasing the activity fee.

Just when Fridgen was considering calling a special meeting to deal with the budget, someone suggested calling absent board member Michael Shindle to break the budget deadlock.

“Through this budget process, we’ve had opportunity to work through these issues. If this comes down to a 5-4 vote, to me it’s a shaky vote. As a board president, I’ve tried to have an open environment,” Fridgen said. “I’m just disappointed if we get to this point and we’re this split.”

On the third try, the budget passed by a 5-4 split vote with Shindle’s vote breaking the stalemate.

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