$63.9M bud­get raises taxes by .55 per­cent

The Community Connection - - FRONT PAGE - By Evan Brandt ebrandt@pottsmerc.com @PottstownNews on Twit­ter

LOWERPOTTSGROVE>> The Potts­grove School Board stopped short of adopt­ing a bud­get that does not raise prop­erty taxes in the com­ing fis­cal year, opt­ing in­stead, af­ter some sharp words, for a $63.9 mil­lion that raises taxes by .55 per­cent.

For a home as­sessed at $120,000, the dis­trict me­dian, the bud­get would raise the an­nual tax bill by $24, said busi­ness man­ager David Nester.

Board mem­ber Rick Rabi­nowitz con­tin­ued to ad­vo­cate for a bud­get that does not raise taxes, say­ing a num­ber of fac­tors now in flux make it likely that it was the dis­trict’s only chance in re­cent years to pro­vide that re­lief to the dis­trict’s taxpayers.

Those fac­tors in­clude state level changes, such as the pend­ing re­lease of a fair fund­ing for­mula; prop­erty tax re­lief bills and Gov. Tom Wolf’s bud­get pri­or­i­ties, which in­clude nearly $1 mil­lion in ad­di­tion state fund­ing for Potts­grove.

At the lo­cal level, Rabi­now-

itz said, the dis­trict has a $700,000 sur­plus from the pre­vi­ous year’s bud­get; $400,000 in un­ex­pected state re­im­burse­ment money for the Ring­ing Rocks Ele­men­tary School pro­ject; $1.5 mil­lion of sur­plus in the dis­trict’s health care fund and $536,000 in sav­ings the board earned that very same night with a par­tial re-fund­ing of a 2010 bond is­sue.

With $3.1 mil­lion avail­able, Rabi­nowitz said he did not think it would be ir­re­spon­si­ble to use $205,000 from some of that money — which is what was re­quired to get the bud­get’s tax hike to zero.

But he could not even get a sec­ond to his mo­tion to adopt a bud­get that did not raise taxes.

In­stead, the board voted 7-1 (board mem­ber Dee Gal­lion was ab­sent) for a vari­a­tion on one of the bud­get op­tions Nester out­lined for them at their re­quest.

That achieved a .2 mill tax i ncrease by tak­ing $200,000 from the dis­trict fund bal­ance, as­sum­ing an ad­di­tional $100,000 from the state and buy­ing one of three new $80,000 school buses out of the cap­i­tal re­serve fund in­stead of the gen­eral fund.

School Board Pres­i­dent Justin Valen­tine said he did not like mak­ing a de­ci­sion that de­pends on Har­ris­burg and wor­ried that a zero tax bud­get this year could re­sult in the need for a higher-than-av­er­age in­crease the fol­low­ing year.

“I think most peo­ple pre­fer a smaller tax hike this year and next year, than noth­ing this year and a big­ger hike the next,” he said. “Zero sounds good, but it might not be the most re­spon­si­ble thing to do.”

“If we achieve a zero tax hike this year, it will be im­me­di­ately for­got­ten,” said board mem­ber Ted Cof­felt. “No mat­ter how good a thing you do this year, it will be for­got­ten when the next one comes. That’s hu­man na­ture. Ev­ery­one hates tax in­creases.”

Board mem­ber Matt Alexan­der chided both Valen­tine and Rabi­nowitz for bring­ing state pol­i­tics into the dis­cus­sion; and then chided the rest of the board for not dis­cussing the var­i­ous cost-cut­ting sug­ges­tions he had made to them via e-mail.

“I don’t feel com­fort­able mak­ing bets with other peo­ple’s money,” said Alexan­der. “We were elected to drive costs down. I high­lighted things we could do and get no feed­back. In­stead peo­ple come here and talk pretty about state pol­i­tics.”

“I’m not fix­ated on zero per­cent, I’m fix­ated on spend­ing our money in the most re­spon­si­ble way pos­si­ble,” said Alexan­der. “It’s not the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s fault. They’ve done a lot of work on this and we’ve done noth­ing. We’ve spent a lot more time on shenani­gans then on this bud­get.”

Valen­tine be­gan to re­spond that one rea­son he did not re­spond to Alexan­der was “due to Sun­shine Law con­sid­er­a­tions ....” when Alexan­der in­ter­rupted him and said “Justin you are such a hyp­ocrite. Don’t show­boat here at the meet­ings and be dif­fer­ent the rest of the time.”

Af­ter the bud­get vote, board mem­ber Patr icia Grimm sug­gested the board par­tic­i­pate in a Penn­syl­va­nia School Board’s work­shop to try to find a path to­ward get­ting along bet­ter.

Say­ing there had been “lots of blow-ups this week,” Grimm added “I’m tired of is­sues of bul­ly­ing and threats on Face­book. This could put us on the right path. We still have to get to De­cem­ber,” she said, when the new board will be seated.

Board mem­ber John Rossi said while he thought Grimm had a good idea, he would not par­tic­i­pate be­cause some­one on the board is leak­ing its pri­vate busi­ness.

“Noth­ing on this board is con­fi­den­tial and I won’t par­tic­i­pate with whomever it is on this board who is telling ev­ery­one our busi­ness,” Rossi said.

Grimm agreed that “the con­fi­den­tial­ity seal has been bro­ken” and said the PSBA pro­gram could help.

“It’s not easy to carry this neg­a­tive energy wher­ever we go,” she said.

Rabi­nowitz re­sponded that he thought it would be bet­ter to go through that process start­ing with the new board.

No ac­tion was taken on Grimm’s sug­ges­tion.

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