GROVE CITY — Property owners in the Grove City Area School District will likely see a real estate tax hike next school year.

“It’s necessary for a district to remain healthy,” Doug Gerwick, school board president, said at Monday night’s meeting.

Board members voted 6 to 1 in favor of adopting the preliminary budget for 2022-23, with a proposed property tax increase of 2 mills.

Gerwick, Dr. Constance Nichols, Dr. Jeffrey Tedord, Augie Hurst, Patty Wilson and Ryan Thomas voted yes. Randy Arnold voted against the measure. Dr. Armando Sciullo and Lee McCracken were not present.

The meeting agenda called for a 1.5-mill tax increase following a budget discussion at the May 2 work session.

After more back-and-forth on Monday, board members ultimately decided to vote on a 2-mill increase as part of the spending plan.

If the increase is approved as part of the final version of the budget, that would bring tax rates from 66 to 68 mills.

Revenues, including the higher rate, would total about $42.6 million. Expenses are projected at just $42.9 million, leaving a deficit of $353,050, according to the budget documents prepared by the finance committee and administrators.

Before the vote on 2 mills, Tedford, head of the finance committee, wondered if 1.5 mills would be enough to balance the budget.

The final budget must be approved by June 30. The proposed budget is available for public viewing.

In the meantime, changes will be made to some of the figures, like the amount of state funding the district can expect to receive, said Superintendent Dr. Jeffrey Finch.

Approving a tax increase this year could mean an increase doesn’t pass next year, Hurst said, noting that the current board members will still be serving in 2023.

The board members can’t make a pledge as to how they might vote next year, Finch said.

This year there seems to be a consensus among board members on raising taxes, so they should consider going above 1.5 mills, Hurst said.

Gerwick, explaining how he used Lego bricks to help him visualize the budget, said he supports a tax increase so that the capital reserve fund isn’t depleted.

Voting against a tax hike would be irresponsible, he said.

Board members have to be willing to make hard choices, Nichols said.

The board is putting forth what they believe to be the “voice of the community,” and that includes those who don’t want a tax increase, Arnold said.

Arnold also mentioned increased spending that is tied to the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief money that school districts have received as part of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.

Those funds have not increased the district’s spending, Finch clarified.

If the COVID-19 pandemic had never happened, the board would still be talking about raising taxes, Thomas said.

The district’s staff has decreased by about 50 people over the past few years, and cutting out additional programs, projects and more employees would be a hard decision, he said.

“I’d pay 10 mills out of my own pocket if that meant my kids would be taken care of,” Thomas said.

Hurst said he doesn’t like the idea of raising taxes but realizes that it needs to be done from time to time. Upcoming expenses include improvements to the athletic facilities and high school.

Gerwick repeated his concerns about depleting the district’s reserves, which Hurst called a “slush fund” that the district should be using.

The budget documents show that as of June 30, the district’s fund balance was just under $14.5 million; about $3.1 million of that is unassigned.

Budget discussions need to start sooner and include factors like decreased enrollment at George Junior Republic, Hurst said.

Hurst said he doesn’t want to burden anyone more than necessary, but he also wants to provide the kids with the best education possible.

Nichols said the board should also check in with other school districts to see how their boards handle the budget.

Also at Monday’s meeting, board members:

• Heard from Becky Sopher during public comment. She is president of the Grove City chapter of Delta Kappa Gamma, which has volunteered with the cafeteria staff. Group members have a better appreciation for all that they do, she said.

• Heard from Finch about the state performance audit of the district, which is done every few years. The findings note that some GJR youth were incorrectly identified as wards of the state; that’s not a “huge deal,” but the district needs to review its checks and balances, he said.

The audit suggests that district officials work more with other schools to find other placements for GJR youth, though the district has no direct involvement with student placement, Finch said.

• Approved the district’s special education plan for 2022-25.

• Approved the custodial contract effective July 1, 2022, through June 30, 2025.

• Approved resolution 2022-1 regarding the furlough of Jessica Taylor at the end of this school year for curtailment or alteration of the district’s educational program related to a substantial decline in class or course enrollment.

Taylor teaches high school Spanish, and that program has had a drop in student every year for the past few years.

• Named Beth Harris as school board secretary for the next four years, effective July 1. She will replace Kim Buchanan, who is retiring.

• Approved an agreement with Raptor Technologies for emergency management and visitor management services.

• Approved an exoneration request for delinquent real estate taxes from 1998 through 2000 for the Grove City Airport property.

It totals about $4,000; the property owner at that time, the late Jack Thompson, went bankrupt, and those taxes have been deemed “uncollectible.”

• Named Sciullo board treasurer for the 2022-23 school year.

● Announced the next meetings: the COVID, educational services and personnel committees will met at 10 a.m. May 31; board work session, 7 p.m. June 6; and board voting meeting, 7 p.m. June 13.

The public may attend meetings in person at the district’s main office or virtually via Zoom.

For meeting agendas and connection information, visit www.grovecity.k12.pa.us

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