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Some ASD board members ready to opt in to Act 72

| Tuesday, April 19, 2005

FORD CITY -- Taxpayers could receive about $100 more in tax relief than originally projected if the Armstrong School Board decides to accept gambling money to give property tax relief to homeowners, according to the district's business manager.

Business Manager Dale Kirsch told the board last night at its caucus meeting that more accurate numbers are coming in from the county's tax assessment office, and that projected tax relief could be as much as $350.

Projections given at a forum on Thursday suggested tax relief would be closer to $250.

Kirsch said he believes the Pennsylvania Department of Education's 14,200 estimate on eligible properties for tax relief under the gambling law was too high. He estimated that about 9,900 property owners will be approved for tax relief.

Because that number is lower than the state estimate, the share for each taxpayer would go up by nearly $100, he said.

"It looks way better than it's ever looked before," said board President Terry Rupp about possibly opting in.

A 1997 estimate of the county's median assessment was also considerably different than a current estimate, Kirsch said.

The median assessment is currently at about $25,000, far less than the $37,000 estimate from 1997, he said.

"I don't think anybody expected it to change that drastically, but it did," Kirsch said.

Two board directors indicated support for opting in, directors Jim Solak and Dr. Larry Bartosh.

Bartosh said the state is offering $3 million in tax relief, which is more than 10 percent of the current local tax effort.

"That's something we seriously need to consider," he said. "I'm leaning toward voting for it."

"It's like the school district winning the lottery," Solak said. "I'm ready to opt in."

Rupp said the board has until the end of next month to decide the issue, and the fact that projections changed so drastically in a few days is reason to use the time to further study the ramifications of the vote.

"These numbers keep changing," he said. "I don't see any reason to rush into this decision."

Rupp said after the meeting that he was encouraged by the changed estimates which might allow the district to cap the earned income tax increase at 0.1 percent, the lowest amount allowed by the state under the gaming law.

"The updated numbers make a more meaningful contribution back to the taxpayers," he said.

The board could vote on the issue at its regular meeting on May 23, just a week shy of the state-imposed deadline of May 31.

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