Cougars contemplate financial future

May 4, 2019

North Star school officials are trying to fashion a 2019-20 budget while weighing the impact of a major renovation project on the district’s property tax rate.

During a committee of the whole meeting Thursday, school board members discussed their options for a projected $21,386,484 expense budget for the following school year. No decision was made Thursday on whether to raise the district’s property tax rate of 33.93 mills.

Business manager Brandon Studer said the total does not reflect the cost of potential capital improvement projects.

“Whether we renovate or consolidate, we will have to have a (tax) increase,” he said.

Council members are still considering five options to renovate the district’s school buildings. Representatives of Crabtree, Rohrbaugh & Associate Architects recommended a plan to expand the elementary school to include up to the seventh grade and the high school to include the eighth 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 also told officials in April that basic maintenance on the three existing buildings — absent a renovation project — would cost between $28 million and $32 million over 10 years.

Several officials acknowledged that a tax increase may be necessary to pay off future building projects.

“I, for one, don’t want to pay higher taxes,” council member Bernard Carlson Jr. said. “But we need to keep in consideration too is that if we don’t have just a small increase, how are we going to do the projects we are talking about doing? There’s going to be a big bond coming. How do we pay that?”

Officials performed a feasibility study to get a sense of the condition of the district’s buildings, including the middle school, which needs a new roof.

School officials said one mill of taxes would bring in $140,000 for the district.

“Over a 10-year period we only raised taxes twice,” Superintendent Louis Lepley said. “Now (financial advisers) figure we are 4 mills behind where we should be for a district our size.”

Studer said it would be easier on taxpayers to have a gradual tax increase over time to cover costs such as capital projects rather than a major increase further down the road.

“I’m a lot more mad as a taxpayer if I have to come to the school district and say, ‘Why didn’t you do something sooner if you knew this was going to happen?’” he said.

School board members are planning to vote on a preliminary budget at their May 14 meeting. The budget must be finalized by June 30.