Derry Area raises taxes, some will stlll see lower bills
Joseph Soltis appealed to residents of the Derry Area School District to "get passionate" about the district's future Thursday after the school board voted 7-1 to adopt a 2008-09 general fund budget with a 4-mill tax increase.
"I've paid taxes here all my life, and I am eager to write this check as a taxpayer here," Soltis, a school board member, told about 25 people at yesterday's meeting. "Just look at what you'll be getting for the cost required."
The property tax increase included with the $29.9 million spending plan brings the district rate to 74 mills. The increase will generate about $490,000 earmarked for a capital projects fund to help pay for an estimated $27 million in improvements to Grandview Elementary School and district athletic facilities.
The millage increase will cost the average residential taxpayer $46.32 annually, said district Business Manager Joe Koluder.
He said 4,959 property owners eligible to receive homestead and farmstead tax-assessment reductions under Act 1 will each receive $195.97.
The board also voted 7-1 to initiate planning of proposed additions and alterations to Grandview. The vote authorized district administrators and HHSDR Architects to prepare and submit justification for the project and schematic design drawings to the state Department of Education for review and approval.
To address declining enrollment in a more fiscally sound manner, the district plans to close Bradenville and New Derry elementary schools and transfer their students and staff to Grandview upon renovation.
Evan Harr of Derry said the board should have given residents the opportunity via voter referendum to decide on the need for a tax increase for the improvements. Under state law, the district was permitted to raise the levy on real estate 4.3 mills before it would be required to seek voter approval.
"The intent of Act 1 was not to come in just below what was needed to have a referendum vote," Harr said. "You should have let the people decide."
Board member Dave Krinock countered by asking Harr where his supporters were yesterday.
"If there's such an outcry, where is everybody," Krinock asked.
Board member Ted Schmidbauer -- the lone dissenter on both votes -- said that, for the convenience and comfort of the students there, he didn't want to see either New Derry or Bradenville closed.
"It's going to be hard on them," Schmidbauer said.