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June 16, 2014

Crawford Central School Board split on possible property tax increase

VERNON TOWNSHIP — With the state-mandated June 30 deadline approaching for Pennsylvania school boards to set their 2014-15 budgets, Crawford Central School Board members are still unsure of whether to increase property taxes.

With board member Jon DeArment absent, the board was tied 4-4 on increasing taxes or not during an informal vote during its monthly work session on Monday.

During the board’s monthly work session, Crawford Central School District Superintendent Charles Heller made a pitch for a tax increase of an unspecified amount, even if the current proposed budget is balanced and doesn’t contain a deficit.

Heller wanted the board to look forward, saying, “We have to make wise decisions not to compromise education programs in the future.”

This brought about a heated debate from board members.

“I’m telling you this community is not going to absorb this,” board member John Amato said.

Though in May Heller recommended raising property taxes the full index of 1.5 mills, he backed away from that stance on Monday by asking the board to consider a tax increase of any amount. He said rising pension costs will eat away the fund balance without a tax raise over time.

“I think we need to chip away at this,” Heller said.

With one mill equaling $1 for every $1,000 in a property’s assessed value, that means an owner of a residence with the district’s median assessed value of $29,000 may be facing a maximum increase of $43.50, boosting the property’s 2014-15 school property tax bill from the current tax rate of $1,473.49 to $1,516.99.

The proposed budget has the millage set for Crawford County residents at 50.81 mills. The maximum 1.5 mill increase would bring in approximately $630,000 in additional revenues.

Board president Jan VanTuil suggested going around the table for an informal vote. VanTuil said she is against a full tax raise but said she would support a 0.5 mill increase.

“Every time you raise taxes, it’s not fun and popular,” VanTuil said. “You don’t get people calling thanking you.”

Board member Glenn Tuttle was open to a tax raise but not to the full 1.5 mills because the tax raise wouldn’t be going for educational programs. He seemed torn with his decision when he said, “I cringe at even recommending a 0.5 increase.”

Board member Jeff Deadorff said he supports a 0.5 to 0.75 mill increase for district sustainability.

“I will not hurt education, I will cut extra-curriculars to keep (educational) programs,” Deardorff said.

Board member Frank Schreck stated flatly he would support no increase of taxes. As did Amato. Board member Melissa Burnett cited the growing district poverty level for her decision, which was to not increase taxes.

“I find it real hard to justify a millage increase,” Burnett said.

Vice President Jan Feleppa maintained the opinion of no tax increase, just as she voted on in May.

“I think we’re not at bare bones yet,” Feleppa said.

Board member Carol Jones said she would go with the minimum increase.

Van Tuil said that next Monday’s agenda would have the 0 mill increase up for vote. Van Tuil said she would get in touch with DeArment to ensure he’s available for next Monday’s meeting, either in person or by telephone, to break the current tie.

What to watch for next

Crawford Central School Board meets Monday at 5:30 p.m. at the Instructional Support Center, 11280 Mercer Pike, Vernon Township, to finalize the 2014-15 budget.

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