HASD passes budget with no tax increase

HOLLIDAYSBURG – The Hollidaysburg Area school board passed a $43 million budget with no tax increase and a $457,000 deficit that will be covered by the district’s fund balance.

The district’s reserve fund balance is expected to be $7.7 million at the end of the next fiscal year.

Finance committee chairman Robert Vonada cast the only vote against the budget because it included no tax increase to stave off program cuts in the 2014-15 school year. He said there are more opportunities to look for cost efficiencies, but he trusts the administration’s recommendation for a tax increase, too.

“We should have increased taxes by 2.1 mills this year and 2.1 mills next year, which is recommended to avoid program cuts. If it is true the district will need 5 mills, [as board member Aaron Ritchey suggested earlier in the meeting], we wouldn’t be able to do that next year without approval from the state Department of Education for an exception.”

The district’s rising employee pension contributions are “the big problem the district is swimming upstream against,” board member Peter Hart said.

Ritchey’s comment about potentially needing a 5-mill tax increase in another year came during a discussion about purchasing 116 new marching band uniforms at a cost of about $67,000.

Vice President Darlee Sill, Troy Keefer, Ritchey and Hart debated replacing the current uniforms, which are 10 years old.

The plan to purchase new uniforms would be budget neutral, business manager Tom Kalinyak said, because of money budgeted but not used last year. Band parents are also contributing $5,000 per year for six years to cover much of the cost.

“This is not extra money,” Ritchey said putting his hand down. He emphasized that the board is not replacing five retiring teachers – two in technical education and one each in art, instructional support and English.

Ritchey said he is concerned about possible furloughs for the 2014-15 year. He said the board could be facing a 5-mill tax increase for that school year as a result of increases to employee pension costs and health care costs.

“If you look at the numbers, we can’t do it,” Ritchey said about the uniforms.

Hart sat back in his chair casually and said: “Remember the Titanic. When it was sinking, the band was playing.”

A wave of laughter broke out.

The new uniforms passed a 6-2 vote with Ritchey and President Ron Yoder casting no votes.

Without board member Wally Tomassetti to cast a ninth vote, a motion to implement a $50 student parking fee for the coming school year failed in a 4-4 vote.

Taxpayer-funded buses provide transportation for students, argued Stephanie Wertz, who voted for the fee on students who choose to drive.

Ritchey, Keefer, Yoder and Brady Leahey voted against it. Wertz, Sill, Hart and Vonada voted for the measure.

“It’s punitive to target an individual because they have the ability to drive to school,” Ritchey said, arguing that students might need to drive to school for various reasons and cannot ride the bus.

“It’s a tax,” he said.

Mirror Staff Writer Russ O’Reilly is at 946,7435.