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Penn-Trafford OKs 5 mill tax hike

| Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Members of the Penn-Trafford school board and administration vented their displeasure with the state when approving a 5-mill increase in property taxes Monday.

In 6-3 votes at last night's regular meeting, directors approved the 2003-04 budget and the hike to 57 mills. Directors Dr. Anthony Casino, Helen Nelson and Larry Wojcik voted against the $36.9 million budget and tax increase.

The hike to 57 mills is a half-mill less than originally proposed in May.

"We really don't feel good about presenting you this budget," Superintendent Dr. Joseph Marasti said.

Marasti told directors that if the state funded 50 percent of costs, as it was supposed to do, "instead of a 5-mill increase, you'd be approving an 18-mill decrease."

In voting against the budget and millage hike, Casino said he couldn't justify increasing taxes on residents worried about their jobs in an uncertain economy. He added that the state subsidy system has been unfair and has short-changed Penn-Trafford over the years.

"When is enough enough?" Casino asked.

Wojcik also said he couldn't put the 5-mill increase -- which amounts to about $125 more for the average district property owner -- on taxpayers.

"There are other areas of government," Wojcik said, referring to the state, "that should be making it (tax increase) up for us."

Even those who approved the budget and millage increase expressed dissatisfaction with state funding.

But Director Al Baird, who voted in favor of the budget and tax increase, said the district's only other option to cut expenses was to nix athletic and extra-curricular programs.

"There's nothing we can do," Baird added of imposing the tax increase.

After the meeting, Marasti said the half-mill decrease since preliminary adoption resulted from the refinancing of a bond and greater federal revenues than had been projected.

In a related matter, the board scheduled a meeting for July 28 to reopen the budget, if needed. Its scheduling resulted because the state has not passed an education budget.

Overall, the district is expecting an increase of about $370,000 in state subsidy and special education funding.

In another matter, directors hired Brett N. Lago as business manager. He will succeed Richard Bratkovich, who is retiring later this year.

Lago, who currently is Jeannette City School District's business manager, will earn $85,000 and is to start no later than Nov. 1.

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