Hollidaysburg school board passes budget

Hollidaysburg Area School Board passed a $44.6 million 2014-15 budget with no tax increase.

Property taxes remain at 97.5 mills or $9.75 per $100 of assessed value.

Two members, Rob Vonada and Ronald Sommer, favored a version of the budget that included a tax increase and voted against the budget presented on Wednesday.

Vonada said he supported a one-mill tax increase to pay off the debt related to the high school renovation that was completed in 2011.

He said more than $1 million has been taken from the general education fund to pay for the renovation debt because the board has not raised taxes as planned by past boards involved with leading the renovation.

The budget passed with votes from President Ron Yoder, Vice President Troy Keefer, Patrick McClain, Wally Tomassetti and Brady Leahey. Drew Swope was absent from the meeting.

The promise to fund the high school renovation with tax hikes was made by boards that preceded those members.

Aaron Ritchey was upset by Vonada’s call for a tax increase. Ritchey said Yoder, Keefer, himself and some other recent board members were heavily involved in finding ways to cope with rising costs and dwindling state funding without raising taxes over the past three years. He credited those members for researching whether Allegheny No. 1 Elementary should be closed, selling the administrative building and negotiating administrative contracts.

“Those that have made great effort over the last three years should be recognized for that, and those that don’t make the effort should be recognized for that, too. And the idea of just raising taxes isn’t an answer,” Ritchey said.

The district’s new spending plan includes a deficit of $293,168. That deficit will be covered by the district’s fund balance.

By the end of next year, the fund balance is estimated to be $7.9 million.

Sommer, who joined the board following the November election, said the board has done well with cutting costs.

“But you can only go so far with that,” he said.

Sommer said he has taken close note of the administration’s budget presentations given during board meetings over the past six months.

By the 2017-18 school year, the district expects its Public School Employees’ Retirement System rate to increase to more than $6.2 million. Hollidaysburg Area projects that, without tax increases, it will have a deficit at the end of that year of $1 million, budget documents show.

“I don’t know where the money will come from two or three years down the road,” Sommer said.

Of his vote against the budget, Sommer said: “I just felt that with all the budget presentations we’ve had, and the problems down the road, we have to do something.”

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