By DIANE M. BITTING
Special to the Advocate
With a 6-3 vote, the Elizabethtown school board passed a $65.67 million spending plan for the 201920 school year. The budget will increase property taxes in the Elizabethtown Area School District by 2.9%, raising the real estate millage from 16.6063 to 17.0878.
Following the meeting on Tuesday, June 25, district spokesman Troy Portser said that the average taxpayer bill will be $3,026.27, with an average increase of $85.27. That falls in line with a previously reported increase of $86 for the owner of a property assessed at $178,500, the median value in the district.
All board members were present for the vote on the budget, advertised at $65,676,141. Voting no were board members Michael Martin, Karen Sweigart and Menno Riggleman.
In remarks before the vote, Martin urged the board to consider other community members, namely senior citizens on fixed incomes, farmers whose livelihoods dependon the weather, small business owners and low-income renters whose landlords will pass on the increased cost.
Martin recounted stories he’s heard from senior citizens, including one whose rising expenses made it unaffordable to buy Christmas gifts for her grandchildren, and another who looked at skipping prescription medicines.
Martin compared his 2018 real estate tax with his taxes in 2008, the first year of paying taxes on his newly built home, and found a 40% increase. By comparison, the consumer price index went up by 16.63% during that same time, he said.
“It is right and appropriate for us to be focused on the students and our staff here, and we also need to take into account other members of our community who also face different situations financially and are impacted by the decisions that we make to raise taxes,” Martin said.
Board member Craig Hummer said the district has no control over such costs as pensions, special education and cyber-charter schools, and “we have been begging for help from Harrisburg to help control those costs.” Otherwise, it falls to the local taxpayer. He added that in looking at cost per student, compared to other districts, Elizabethtown does well and is “very frugal.”
“That’s the hardest thing we do is finding that balance between what is important for our kids’ education versus what the community can support,” Hummer said.
Sweigart said that with revenues increasing,she believed the budget increase could be smaller. And, although she voted in favor of a recent union contract giving raises to teachers, she said that Elizabethtown’s salaries are 10% higher than some districts and there could have been some savings there.
Relatedly, the board approved a 2019-20 homestead/ farmstead tax reduction of $83.88 for qualifying properties; the reduction was $84.13.
In citizen comments, Elizabethtown residentRobert Yahara asked the board whether the recently approved five-year teachers’ contract, with annual raises averaging 2.9%, will contribute to tax increases in future budgets. He noted that the compound raise over five years is more than 15%.
In other business, the board approved the appointment of Kara Schoessler as the new middle school principal, effective July 15. Schoessler comes from the Palmyra Area School District, where she most recently served as assistant principal at the middle school. Previously, she was a music teacher and band director at that school.
The board voted to proceed with financing to renovate Rheems Elementary School and redo the lower floor of the middle school to house sixth grade. The board also approved bids totaling about $70,000 for new projectors and mounts at Bear Creek School. In addition, it voted to accept over $1.2 million in federal and state grants for special education and remediation services.
Also, the board approved extending an agreement with Elizabethtown Borough providing tax incentives for construction on economically distressed properties.
There are no school board meetings in July. The next meeting is Tuesday, Aug. 13.