G-A school board undecided on property tax hike

PAT FRIDGEN

Though the Greencastle-Antrim School District school board approved the 2012-2013 preliminary budget at its April 5 meeting, as required by Act 1, members were not set on whether to raise taxes to tackle the $565,000 deficit, or to prepare for the $1.5 million deficit in 2013-2014. Next year's revenue to the general fund was expected to be $32,650,311, with expenditures of $33,215,482.

Business manager Richard Lipella said the huge deficit a year out was due to PSERS, the school employee retirement fund the district was mandated to contribute to. While the board could cover expenses using reserves next year, "what you have to be careful about is, you start out that much in the hole the following year."

He was amenable to next year's numbers, since administration was still looking at ways to cut, and the reserve fund balance was healthy. However, that money could not be used as a standard solution for budget woes.

Lipella thought each mill of a tax increase would affect a property owner by $18 to $22. A two mill increase would bring $365,000 into district coffers. He warned that state revenue would likely remain low, and some aid that disappeared would never return. The economy was still affecting income. While the district used to earn $500,000 in interest, of late it was getting $100,000.

A few board members were open to the possibility of a tax increase.

"The board and administration has worked hard every year to glean this budget," said Joel Fridgen. "The board will be heroes this year, if there is no tax increase, but next year try to raise it five or six mills. That will hurt businesses. The kids will be hurt."

He thought businesses would prefer a gradual increase in the tax rate, rather than one big hit.

Eric Holtzman stated that at some point a building project would be necessary, due to student enrollment.

Tracy Baer didn't like the projections for the following year. "If we don't do something this year, it will snowball. We may have to cut something we don't want to."

Director of eduction Bob Crider warned that already the fall kindergarten class was larger than anticipated. The school was prepared with 11 teachers for 215 kids, but 250 had already registered. In addition, class sizes at the elementary school were going to be 29 to 30 children.

Brian Hissong was leery. "As a businessman, I don't want to keep paying taxes. The administration has done a great job, but I can't buy into the fact that we have not recovered from the zero mill increase (in 2009-2010). If the money is there, you'll spend it."

Fridgen predicted an eight mill increase to cover the $1.5 million deficit in two years. He didn't want to dip into reserves to balance the budget, opting to use that fund as it was intended, for special projects, such as removing lead paint from the farm house at Tayamentasachta, and updating core technology on the school campus.

"By June, we better have the future figured out," he said.

The board must adopt the final budget that month.

Superintendent Dr. C. Gregory Hoover will present what cuts might be necessary to eliminate the $1.5 million deficit, at the April 19 board meeting.

In other business, the board accepted the resignation of Tony Waggoner, middle school science teacher, who is retiring at the end of the school year.