Tax hike proposed by 7-2 vote

By on May 17, 2017

School board final approval set for June 20

Two members of the Warwick School Board are not in favor of the 3 percent tax increase presented in the school district’s 2017-18 budget.

At the May 16 board meeting, Benedict Sahd and Leslie Penkunas voted “nay” on the proposal.

However, with the support of the other board members — Timothy Quinn, Todd Rucci, Michael Landis, Millard Eppig Jr., Nelson Peters, Scott Shaub and Debra Wenger — the $71,633,474 plan for next school year was given the green light to be advertised for final approval.

The final vote will take place at the June 20 school board meeting, and some board members believe the increase will decrease.

School board treasurer Landis emphasized that this is a “proposed” final budget and that adjustments are likely to lower the 3 percent tax index. With favorable budget numbers, the Finance and Legal Committee anticipates that the index might be reduced to as low as 2.5 percent.

Sahd and Penkunas were not entirely convinced.

“I feel that a 3 percent property tax increase is excessive,” Sahd said. “Taxpayers need and deserve a break from higher taxes. I hope that (the district) will continue to investigate ways to balance the budget without an increase in taxes.”

Penkunas agreed, saying she thinks the district should be cautious about economic conditions and not penalize taxpayers.

“Three percent is too high now,” she said.

Peters stressed that the proposed increase represents a worst-case scenario at this time and he expects the increase to be lower. He encouraged the public to attend the next meeting of the Finance and Legal Committee, which is set for June 6 at 6 p.m. That will be the last time for open discussion about the budget before the final vote on June 20.

The goal is to have the best budget possible for both students and taxpayers.

To put it into context, the proposed final budget as it currently stands requires a tax increase that would amount to an annual hike of $91.31 on a median assessed property value of $146,700.

According to school district business manager Nathan Wertsch, the school board voted back in December to stay within the adjusted Act 1 index for the fourth year in a row, which is 3 percent. He also pointed out that many other districts have been considering tax increases well above 4 percent, and some as high as 6 or 7 percent.

A summary of the proposed budget projects revenue at $70,776,134. The deficit is expected to be $857,340, less bond refinance savings of $562,287, for a true deficit of $295,053. The deficit would be covered by the school district’s reserve fund.

Previously, Wertsch explained that Warwick is like any school district in that public schools are faced with expenses rising at rates higher than revenue. Salaries, PSERS, healthcare costs, special education costs and other expenses are all increasing at rates far above the assistance the district gets from the state or from economic growth.

Costa Rica field trip:Student safety debated

In another matter, two board members voted against a proposed international field trip.

Michael Landis and Millard Eppig were not on board with a planned excursion for high school students to Costa Rica. The trip was ultimately approved by the other seven board members.

“I am concerned about the safety of students,” Landis said, noting that Costa Rica might be a potential trouble spot.

Todd Rucci of the Student Activities Committee presented an outline of the trip, which is set for either June 2018 or during Thanksgiving break of 2018. It is intended to offer educational opportunities in service and conservation in Central America.

Rucci assured the board that there were no known safety issues in Costa Rica and that it would be a valuable learning experience for students.

Warwick senior Jamison Appel spoke up to say that he had taken a student trip to the Dominican Republic and worked with young people from that culture. He called it a life-changing event in his teen years.

“I decided to become a teacher because of that experience,” he said.

Appel was among members of the National Honor Society being recognized by Lynn Lopez of the Special Olympics of Lancaster County. During the meeting, she presented the NHS members with a plaque for their service to the community and for their character and leadership in treating the Special Olympians with respect and dignity.

Wentworth honored

Senior Connor Wentworth, who finished his last evening as student representative to the school board, was also honored. Wentworth received an award from business education teacher Sandy Stehman for his achievements with the Future Business Leaders of America in participating in the state FBLA competition.

Laura Knowles is a freelance reporter who covers the Warwick School Board beat for the Record Express. She welcomes reader feedback and story tips at lknowles21@gmail.com.

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