AP NEWS

North Star school considering tax increase

May 15, 2019

Considering their financial options for future expenses, North Star School District board members approved a 1.11-mill tax increase in the district’s tentative 2019-20 budget at a meeting Tuesday night.

Board members approved a $21,313,852 preliminary budget with a property tax rate of 35.04 mills. The current rate is 33.93 mills.

Business manager Brandon Studer said the increase would cover rising salaries, health care benefits and retirement costs while helping to pay off the deficit.

“The tax increase proposed this year would cover normal operating costs on an annual bases,” he said.

School officials said 1 mill of taxes produces $140,000 for the district.

Superintendent Louis Lepley said the school’s financial adviser determined that the rate was 4 mills lower than it should be for a district of North Star’s size. The school board has raised taxes twice in the last 10 years.

“The way we have to look at it financially, there’s a gap there,” he said.

Solicitor Michael Barbera said officials still have the option of passing a final budget without a tax increase. Officials have to pass a final budget before June 30.

“The unfortunate thing is when you pass a preliminary budget, it’s always good to shoot high,” he said. “You can always decrease that when you go to approve it for the final budget.”

School board members are still considering five options to renovate the district’s buildings.

Representatives from Crabtree, Rohrbaugh & Associates Architects recommended a plan to expand the elementary school to include up to the seventh grade and the high school to include the eight grade. Crabtree estimated that the project, which would eliminate the Kantner middle school building, would cost at least $35 million over a decade.

The Mechanicsburg-based firm spoke to officials at Tuesday’s meeting, the details of which will be available in the Daily American’s Thursday edition.

“Regardless of whether we need to do some type of renovation or consolidation, we know there is going to need to be some tax increase for that,” Studer said.

More than 26 residents attended the meeting to get more information about proposed building projects.

John Toth, of Quemahoning Township, said officials should only raise taxes once plans for the buildings are finalized.

“I think you shouldn’t be raising taxes just to raise taxes,” he said to board members. “I know you have some projects on the table which may or may not come through, but I think you need to wait to raise taxes until you decide what you are going to do with this project.”

Lepley said he understands the burden that residents feel when the school raises taxes, since the board is essentially raising his as well. But Lepley added that officials need to keep up with rising costs.

“I don’t think it’s fair for property owners to always be the ones to feel this burden, but that’s the hand we are dealt with now,” he said.