Tax raise OK’d; pool vote split

PATTON — Cambria Heights School Board members adopted the 2019-20 final budget and unanimously voted to raise real estate taxes by 2 mills, but they split and ultimately decided not to renovate the closed pool on Tuesday.

The millage increase is part of a plan to cover the costs of a high school renovation project. The current tax rate is now set at 65 mills.

With an increase of two mills, the district’s taxpayers will pay an extra $2 for every thousand dollars their property is worth. This is the third year the district has raised taxes by 2 mills to cover for the project, and according to Superintendent Michael Strasser, it won’t be the last.

“Two more years beyond this, it’ll increase by 2 mills,” Strasser said. “The board voted to raise taxes to the index, which is 2 mills for five consecutive years, to help offset the cost of the renovation. We’re in year three.”

Last summer, work to replace some of the high school’s ceiling and floor tiles started the renovation’s initial phase. This summer, phase 2 work is scheduled to be finished in time for when the new academic year begins in August. Phase 2 work includes renovating two pods of classrooms, the library and the commons-area restrooms.

Phase 3 work, which is expected to be completed by the end of 2019, will include renovating the auditorium in addition to the cafeteria and kitchen areas.

The project has two additional phases to undergo afterward before being fully completed by the end of summer 2020.

But school board members didn’t just raise taxes and hear updates about the high school renovation project during their three-hour meeting Tuesday night, they also voted down a motion to move forward with plans to renovate the high school’s swimming pool, which had been closed after failing an inspection in March 2018.

Board members Thomas Bearer, Jerry Brant, Russell Miller and Susan Sibert voted in favor of renovating the pool, which would have cost approximately $2.8 million. President George Haluska and members Thomas Malloy, Barbara Mozina, Donald Owens and Kenneth Vescovi voted against the idea.

Many of those who opposed said that, while they’re not against fixing the pool, the timing is not right for the district to do anything about it. Mozina said that her vote in particular was a difficult decision to make.

“I watched my parents mortgage their house when they were 70 years old to pay bills, and I’m going to do that to somebody else’s parents? That’s difficult, and it’s a huge tax burden.

“I can’t act any differently with public money than I can with my own money,” she said. “I would love to have my husband not drive his 2005 rusty old pickup, but it’s not good timing for us right now because we’re saving to educate two kids in college. So, he’s going to drive that rusty old pickup and take the garbage to the end of the lane every day.”

Brant said that, due to the due diligence and aggressive bidding practices of Eckles Architecture, the district’s costs for the renovation should only be about $24.2 million instead of $26 million.

“There’s $1.8 million sitting there besides a 5% contingency of $1 million. So it’s not like you’re going to have to find $2 million or $2.5 or $2.8,” Brant said. “The other thing is, what are your plans for that space if you’re not going to use it as a pool, and what’s it going to cost to do whatever plan B is?”

Haluska, however, said he thinks it’s best to save the contingency funds in case of any emergencies that might arise within the next year.

“I think it would be wise to wait until this renovation is done. These change orders pop up and that’s going to cost some money,” he said. “Just let it sit like it is — you’re not going to do anything with it.”

Board members then agreed that they are willing to discuss fixing the pool once they know where they stand financially as they move forward with the high school renovation’s final phases.