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Altoona approves lower tax increase

Altoona Area School Board approved a lower 3.7% tax increase in passing the 2022-23 general fund budget Monday.

A 4.9% tax increase — the maximum allowed under Act 1 — had been proposed.

When it was time to vote on the final general fund budget, tax resolution and homestead and farmstead exclusion, David Francis wanted to have a discussion on lowering the tax increase percentage.

“I’m sure every board is getting nailed with this. There is so much out there, and people are hurting” he said.

Francis said that a 4.9% hike does not seem like much, but right now it is a lot on the public’s wallets.

He agreed a tax increase was needed for the district to pay off debts from the new building and other expenses, but he could not accept going to the max percentage allowed.

“Our costs go up, but I cannot go for the full 4.9%. … I can do 3.5%, 3.6%, 3.8% … anything but the max,” Francis said.

Val Mignogna wanted people watching to understand that the money the district has is COVID-19 money that will be done in two years.

He does not want the district to become financially distressed, but if it were to reach that point, then they will have no say in what is cut and how much taxes go up.

“I don’t want to go the maximum also because in a nod to the public and what they’re going for, but it is important for everyone to know also this district has done a tremendous job of not raising taxes. We have the lowest millage in the state of Pennsylvania among 500 school districts,” Mignogna said.

He said the district would have to raise taxes by 52% to match the school district in the county with the highest, and 10% to get to the next lowest millage.

“We have to make a dent in this. Local taxes won’t do it; this needs to happen at a state level,” Mignogna said. “I want to make a motion to suggest a tax raise of 3.7% which gets us to 6.433 mills.”

Frank Meloy said that 30% of district revenue comes from local sources and 70% comes from the state.

“The state is the major supplier of our money, and over the last number of years has not done their part,” he said. “It would be irresponsible to tell the public we don’t need to raise your taxes.”

He understands the costs are going up for everyone but they are also going up for the district, and they also have to meet their financial responsibilities.

Meloy said Act 1 gives each school district a percentage of taxes that it can raise in a given year. Altoona’s is 4.9%.

“You can go anywhere up to the number. The board could also vote not to raise taxes which we have done last year. I would propose 3.9% or 3.8%,” he said.

Stephanie McGinnis and Ron Johnston agreed on not raising taxes to the index.

“I also agree with 3.5%. I talk to people at sporting events, grocery stores about how they feel about raising taxes; nobody wants their taxes increased but under the circumstances, we know it’s coming,” Johnston said.

Chris Cook said he was leaning toward a full tax increase but was willing to compromise to bring that number down.

“I certainly don’t want to raise. I pay major taxes in the city, and I know it will add implications on me as a businessman, but I also care about the school,” he said.

At the end of the discussion, Mignogna made a motion to raise taxes 3.7%, and Francis seconded it.

The final budget which included $118,402,996 in expenditures and a 3.7% tax increase to 6.439 mills passed 6-3.

Meloy, Mignogna, Cook, Francis, Johnston and McGinnis voted in favor, with Johnston, Eric Haugh and Kelly Irwin-Adams all voting against it.

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