HASD delays decision on taxes

HOLLIDAYSBURG — At 10:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Hollidaysburg Area Senior High library, the school board was still figuring out a tax increase for next year that would compute with a projected $1.8 million budget deficit as well as local taxpayers who are strapped.

Board member Rob Vonada broke a momentary silence.

“We’ve seen the data,” Vonada said. “Does anyone think we can do less than maximum tax increase?”

None of the eight board members responded to Vonada’s question. All members were present except for Melissa Mitchell.

A final vote on a $51.7 million 2019-20 budget is scheduled for June 12, and they wanted to decide Wednesday on a tax rate to include. However, the board decided to get some sleep and discuss the tax increase again at 6 p.m. May 29 in the high school library.

The maximum tax increase the district can levy is 0.2577 mills, which is determined by the state’s Act 1 index. That increase would generate $621,000 for the district — not enough to address the entire deficit, so the district’s fund balance would have to be used. The tax increase would result in $42.50 more on the yearly tax bill for a taxpayer with a property value of $165,000–the average assessed property value, district business administrators said.

“We just can’t pile it on the taxpayers, but we want to be the green grass, the good school district,” board member Drew Swope said.

Earlier in the Wednesday night meeting the district administration brought forward items for board consideration that would deepen the deficit beyond $1.8 million.

The administration asked the board whether it wanted to continue an AmeriCorps teacher aide position at $11,000 for Frankstown Elementary, implement a $2,139 stipend for a planetarium director after-school duties and increase the substitute teacher rate to $100 per day and $110 after 60 days to reward loyal substitutes, which would be an additional cost of about $28,900 for substitutes.

A straw poll showed the board did not favor raising rates for substitutes, but the other two measures would pass.

“I don’t think we can afford any nonessential things,” Swope said. “The bottom line is we have a $1.8 million (deficit). How do we tax these people to pay for these things with a decreasing base.”

Superintendent Bob Gildea said the substitute market is tight and districts are competing for certified substitutes. Gildea said students are losing valuable instructional time when the district cannot fill teacher absences.

There were three members of the public who attended the meeting that started at

7 p.m. and who remained until the end of the meeting about 11 p.m. Two were school board candidates Tom McCaffrey and Ken Snyder, two of the 11 school board candidates on the ballot for the municipal primary on Tuesday.

Also attending was Joe Keller who asked the district to raise taxes to benefit the Hollidaysburg Public Library.

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