GROVE CITY – A divided Grove City Area School Board is considering a 1-mill property tax increase ahead of the expected adoption of a preliminary 2019-20 budget Monday.

Three school board members — Carolyn Oppenheimer, Ray Abplanalp and J. Scott Somora — expressed opposition to the proposed 1-mill increase Monday during the board’s meeting.

Oppenheimer said the budget as proposed had room for cuts to be made and that “more careful estimates” could help ensure a budget that keeps property taxes unchanged at 63.98 mills. 

“I do have a problem with an increase,” he said.

Superintendent Dr. Jeff Finch said the budget figures reflect district needs for the coming year.

“You’re certainly stretching your money out of things,” Finch said.

The budget, which increases property taxes by 1.6 percent, calls for $42.5 million in expenditures. Each mill of taxes generates $180,365 in revenues.

Abplanalp said capital work such as the ongoing Hillview Intermediate Center project should not be budgeted without budget cuts to pay for them.

“That has to come with sacrifice,” Abplanalp said. “I don’t see that here. We’re still signing contracts. We’re still giving raises. To just say to the taxpayers, ‘We want another $200,000,’ I don’t get that.”

Board President Dr. Constance Nichols said the budget is not frivolous.

“It’s not like a shopping spree,” Nichols said.

Finch said there is little room for cuts on employee pay because 95 percent of salaries are mandated by labor contracts.

The superintendent told the board that it can still make changes to the final spending plan, even if it adopts the preliminary budget Monday, before the final approval in June.

“You’re not painted in a corner next week by approving a preliminary budget,” Finch said. “You still have the discretion.”

He said district officials will still tweak the budget numbers as it finalizes certain items.

While the district is mulling a new budget, the district received a minor windfall, in the form of a $50,000 real estate transfer tax from the sale of the former General Electric locomotive plant in Grove City and Pine Township to Wabtec, the Westinghouse Air Brake Technologies Corp.

“The transfer tax has not been allocated to any specific expenditure,” Finch said.

The transfer tax is included with the district’s annual 2018-19 revenues, but may end off being offset by other sources of income.

“For example, not all taxes are paid on time, and not all governmental funding projections come out as well as hoped,” Finch said.