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A-R board, residents debate Act 72 merits

| Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Apollo-Ridge School Board and residents wrestled Monday night over whether district funds should be gambled on Act 72.

The act promises homeowners a property tax break from gambling revenue in exchange for a 0.1 percent increase in the earned income tax. School districts must also trade their ability to raise property taxes above the rate of inflation without holding a referendum.

Board President William Naser said long-range planning will mean smaller but more frequent millage hikes if the board accepts slots money.

"People are right when they say there will be more tax increases under Act 72," Naser said. "That doesn't mean their total millage will increase."

Naser projected total savings of $240 for homeowners in the $25,000 income bracket, $215 for those earning $50,000 and $190 for earners in the $75,000 range.

Savings will disappear, however, if voters choose to increase the earned income tax to its maximum level in order to receive more property tax relief.

At that level, Naser said, the biggest winners will be retired people in the district who file for a homestead exclusion.

Filing for the homestead exclusion is a requirement for a homeowner seeking Act 72 property tax relief.

About 3,200 homeowners are expected to file for an exclusion if Apollo-Ridge opts in, Naser said.

A property owner can't receive real estate property tax relief on any house in which the owner does not live. Renters and commercial property owners won't get any tax break from Act 72, said Naser, but they will pay more in earned income tax.

Though they said the relief is tantalizing, some directors said they doubt Gov. Ed Rendell's claim that he will be able to set aside $500 million in gambling revenue for property tax relief.

"It's based on absolutely zero history in Pennsylvania on what gaming can bring," said Director Lance Foster.

Foster pointed out that Pennsylvania gambling sites are going to have to compete with well-established venues such as Atlantic City, N.J.

"Are they going to keep all those people from driving right to the places they've been going?"

Property owner Stan Cieslinski seems to think so. Cieslinski said he'd like to see the busloads of senior citizens he sees flocking toward Atlantic City yank on one-armed bandits in their home state.

Cieslinski also said he's glad to see state government offering communities a helping hand.

"Hey, it's a start," he said.

Another property owner, Forrest Liermann, said he's concerned about that helping hand, which seems too eager to feed school districts as-yet unearned revenue.

"I'm concerned with the strings that may be attached," he said.

Liermann said he opposes the board taking a formal vote on Act 72 on general principle.

"Opting in or opting out is acknowledging their jurisdiction over us," he said. "When you deal with skunks, you start smelling like a skunk."

On Monday night Deer Lakes and Riverview school districts became the third and fourth local school districts to either vote against opting into Act 72, or to choose not to vote at all on the measure, thus rejecting it. The others are South Butler County and Fox Chapel Area.

Highlands remains the sole local district to opt in.

Ten other school districts in the Alle-Kiski Valley have yet to vote.

The state's 501 school districts have until May 30 to decide.

Additional Information:

Coming up

Who: Apollo-Ridge School Board.

What: Vote on whether to accept Act 72 slot money.

When: 7:30 p.m. May 23.

Where: Apollo-Ridge Senior High School, Route 56, Kiski Township.

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