Warwick SD halves tax hike; hires Schofield

By on June 22, 2018

Soon-to-be-retired Lititz Police Detective Sergeant John Schofield, hired to a newly created security position

It was a roller coaster ride as the 2018-19 budget deadline closed on the Warwick School Board.

Ultimately, the board on Tuesday adopted a $73,964,003 budget that raises taxes by .50 percent  — half of what had been discussed only a month ago but not the balanced budget achieved in the 2017-18 budget.

The board passed the 2018-19 spending plan by a 7-1 vote. Leslie Penkunas cast the lone dissenting vote — board member Ben Sahd, who previously opposed any hike, was absent.

Only a week ago, the board had been leaning toward a tax hike of .75 percent, down from the 1.0 percent increase it had kicked around at the May 15 meeting.

The initial reasoning for the proposed increases were intended to help offset possible increases in the future.

Board members at a May 1 Committee of the Whole meeting noted that while the 2018-19 proposed budget could be balanced, there is a projected deficit of about $1.25 million in the 2019-20 budget.

Still, on Tuesday, several board members noted that $75,000 of the $200,000 brought in from the .50 tax hike would essentially go to pay the annual salary of soon-to-be-retired Lititz Police Detective Sergeant John Schofield.

The board voted unanimously Tuesday to hire Schofield in the newly created position as Coordinator of School Safety and Security. The position will complement the role of the school resource officer position created by the board in 2016.

Schofield’s last duty shift with Lititz PD will occur July 6 and he’ll officially retire in September 2018.

Many board members, including Todd Rucci, Michael Landis, Matthew Knouse, and Nelson Peters praised the decision — spearheaded by Superintendent April Hershey — to hire Schofield.

Chief William Seace (left) and Det. Sgt. John Schofield at the chief's retirement party, held at the General Sutter Inn March 24. (Photos by Stan Hall)

Chief William Seace (left) and Det. Sgt. John Schofield at the chief’s retirement party, held at the General Sutter Inn March 24. (Photos by Stan Hall)

Rucci said the proactive safety measure is “comforting” and will “allow parents to sleep better” in light of the tragic events that have happened at schools in recent days.

Schofield’s duties will include advising the district on all matters of safety and security while overseeing district’s all-hazards plan. Safety and security continue to be a top priority for the district.

“We are blessed and very grateful to have someone with such expertise and knowledge of this community join the Warwick team,” Hershey noted.

In the end, the .50 tax increase needed for the final budget equals 0.0815 mills, which sets the millage rate at 16.3711.

So, how did Warwick Business Manager Nathan Wertsch lower the tax hike and increase revenues between the June 6 and June 19 meetings?

“The day after we delivered the final budget presentation (June 6), we received the June tax roll from the county which reflected an additional $4.3 million in assessed values,” said Wertsch.

Besides the recent growth in assessed real estate values — not including the county-wide real estate reassessment which did not increase district revenues — Warwick has seen “very strong growth in our interim revenues and our interest rates continue to rise,” Wertsch noted.

“On the flip side, a number of our expense drivers grew during that time-frame as well,” he said. “We continue to incorporate every bit of new revenue and expense information we have right up until final adoption.”

Another challenge for the board occurred with the change last year of Heart of Lancaster Regional Medical Center into non-profit UPMC Pinnacle Lititz. The shift represented a drop from the previous $570,000 base tax bill on the property.

UPMC’s five-year “payment in lieu of taxes” agreement, approved last year by the board, generates a $250,000 payment in the first year, $225,000 in year two, and $200,000 in years three through five, with the contract auto renewing unless either party ends it.

Another “taxing” challenge facing Warwick is non-profit, Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health’s purchase of the former Susquehanna Bank property — once the site of the Morgan Paper Mill at 26 N. Cedar St.

Wertsch said the district has not been contacted by Penn Medicine/LGH which purchased the building for $9 million from Blackford Development.

“We have not heard (their) intentions yet,” he said. “The main property, not including the smaller ancillary deeds, has a 2018-19 assessed value of $8,515,200, which based off the proposed tax rate would equate to base tax of $139,403.”

Still, Wertsch said things evolve quickly in the district where, as noted, the county’s June tax roll reflected the additional $4.3 million in assessed values in the district.

That uptick — which is unrelated the revenue-neutral county-wide real estate reassessment — came mainly from 13 new residential properties that average $333,000. That is one example of the assessed values of the developments going up in the district, he said.

Wertsch also noted that the current projection for 2019-20 budget shows a deficit of only $478,000 — down from the $1.25 million hole projected only a month ago — “still with many unknowns obviously.”

“That would represent the best starting point the district has seen in the last 10-plus years,” he said.

Patrick Burns is news editor for the Lititz Record Express. He welcomes your questions and comments and can be reached at pburns.eph@lnpnews.com or at 717-721-4455.

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