- Grove City, Pennsylvania

Local News

May 23, 2014

Taxpayers being asked to pay more

GROVE CITY — Two members of Grove City school board and three community members showed disapproval of the district's proposed $36,954,101 budget on Monday; however, it passed 6-2.

The budget will come up for a final vote at 7 p.m. June  9, giving district taxpayers 30 days to review it and comment at board members' work session the week before. A ninth director, Vern Saylor, was not present Monday.

Director Scott Somora voted against the funding plan because of the proposed one-mill tax increase, which equals about $160,000 for the year. Business manager Kim Buchanan confirmed to Somora that the district has over $18 million between its capital reserve and fund balance.

"With that kind of cash on hand ... I have a real hard time going back to taxpayers to increase the mills for this 'pay it forward' strategy," Somora said, reiterating a term used by Superintendent Dr. Richard Mextorf about raising property taxes annually within state restrictions for needs.

Somora said local residents have recently been overtaxed, citing problems with Grove City Borough's budget.

The borough raised taxes for the first time in decades this year and it's expected to hike more in 2015, Somora said - and council is expected to vote on six-month, electricity-rate hike starting in July, at its meeting at 7 p.m. Monday.

The rate hike is to compensate for about $460,000 extra in electric overuse this winter and a subsequent rise in electricity billed by the borough's power provider. Capacity increases are expect to continue in the power industry until 2017, with the borough facing close to an additional $1 million increase next year alone. The electricity rate hike may last longer than six months.

Also voting against the proposed budget was director Faye Bailey, who did not like that "built-in raises" are being approved in the budget without having early discussions about the wages, she said.

"We always talk about raising one mill. Why not a half mill?" Bailey said. She is not opposed to raising mills for specific expenditures, but struggles with the district's families being asked to pay more money for savings "when 40 percent of our kids are on free and reduced lunches," she said.

"We keep talking about 'the whole child.' ... If we keep taking from their parents, we aren't benefiting the whole child."

Dave and Carolyn Oppenheimer, as well as Esther Falcetta, also voiced their disapproval of the planned tax increase. With a $18 million-plus surplus, "Why can't we give taxpayers a break?" Mr. Oppenheimer said.

Mextorf said a 1-mill increase keeps the district in sound financial condition, he said after the meeting. Other school districts don't have it so well "and have buildings falling down around them" because they have no capital reserve to draw from, he noted.

The state also threw districts a curve ball in recent years that they needed to start paying into the state pension, after saying for years that they could stop paying into it. Grove City had a surplus since former superintendent Dr. Robert M. Post.

About $8 million is for the fund balance in times of emergency, like the sudden retirement and health care increases, he added.

About $10 million of the money is in the capital reserve to repair or improve the district's $80 million in property, equipment and buildings, Mextorf said.

One mill will mean 17 cents more in tax per week for a home assessed by the county at $9,000 to 96 cents per week for homes assessed at $50,000, Mextorf said. The superintendent will pay about 67 cents a week based on the assessed value of his home.

Published May 14, 2014, in Allied News. Pick up a copy at 201 A Erie St., Grove City.

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