The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

June 11, 2014

Danville school directors debate, approve maximum property tax increase of 2.5%

By Robert Stoneback
The Danville News

— DANVILLE — School board members passed a balanced budget totaling $34.987 million Tuesday night by approving a property tax increase of 2.5 percent, the maximum allowed by law.

The increase equates to a $31.74 increase on Montour County properties assessed at $104,400, according to district business manager Janis Venna. The millage rate increase for district properties in both Montour and Northumberland counties is the same, at 13.3857 mills.

While the decision to accept the budget was unanimous, there was some disagreement amongst the board members on increasing property taxes.

Board members Joseph Stemm and Randy Keister both suggested not raising taxes for the year and instead seeking other avenues to reduce the deficit. Without the tax increase, the budget would have had a deficit of $318,019.

“We keep hitting the tax payers year after year,” Stemm said. “I think we should cut the taxpayers a break.”

“I’m willing to roll the dice … I just think we need to look at other avenues,” Keister said. One suggestion he offered was making the school’s coaching staff all volunteers. The district currently spends about $270,000 a year on coaching salaries.

Other board members disagreed, but the arguments were kept respectful.

David Weader, the board’s vice president, said while Stemm and Keister made great points “PSERs (retirement contributions) is killing us … That’s just going to continue to grow.”

“I understand where you’re coming from, but I can’t not go with the increase this year,” he said.

Board member Jamie Hosterman, a member of the board’s budget committee, said the district’s finances were “picked apart,” and he was unsure where else the money to make up the deficit would come from.

Board president Allan Schappert also brought up the state-mandated increases to PSERs funding as well as to healthcare packages. Those costs alone will continue to take huge chunks out of the district’s budget year after year, he said, as will unfunded mandates from Harrisburg.

Superintendent Cheryl Latorre agreed with the points Keister and Stemm were making but said the district had to look at its revenue from a long-term perspective and she didn’t want to regret this decision further down the line.

“We’re trying to prepare for not just tomorrow,” she said.

She commended her predecessor, interim superintendent David Price, saying he helped fiscally prepare the district. Today, there are many districts in the heartland struggling financially, but Danville is not one of them, she said.

The property tax increase was passed with yea votes from Schappert, Weader, Hosterman and members Barbara Bickhart, Dawn Koons-Gill, Gregg Campbell and Christopher Outt. Stemm and Keister voted nay.

Email comments to rstoneback@thedanvillenews.com.