NEW CASTLE School board OKs 6-mill tax increase

The board also rejected bids to move seven homes slated for demolition near the new high school.
NEW CASTLE, Pa. -- Living in the New Castle Area School District just got a little more expensive.
School board members agreed in a 7-1 vote to increase taxes by six mills for the coming school year to pay for the $32.9 million budget. That means a person living in a home with a market value of $46,000 will pay an extra $49.80 in school taxes.
Board member Peter Yerage voted against the tax increase and called for pay freezes for administrators and professional staff. He also asked for more retirement incentives for older teachers to help cut spending.
Yerage suggested that board members consider implementing the six-mill tax increase over two or three years.
Board members Larry Nord, Tom DiMuccio, Frank Bonfield, Lynn Padice, Joe Farris, David Dominick and Karen Humphreys voted in favor of the tax increase. Allan Joseph was absent from Wednesday's meeting.
Higher costs: Board members and administrators say this year's tax increase is unavoidable because of rising costs and hiring done by previous school boards.
"No one wants to see their taxes raised, but previous boards added positions and put people on and now this board has to be the bad guy and raise taxes," said Dominick, who is chairman of the school board budget committee.
Last fall, school Superintendent Joseph Martin Jr. predicted a tax increase, saying new jobs had been created without tax increases in the past few years.
Instead, school officials have been dipping into savings compiled for a school building project to pay for the added salaries, he said. That saving account is expected to be depleted soon when the building project starts next year.
"You can't have it both ways. If you add people you raise taxes or hold the line," Martin said Wednesday. "You can't put people on [staff] and not raise taxes."
Board members Joe Farris and Tom DiMuccio defended previous school boards, saying hiring was done to benefit the students.
"We should have raised taxes one mill for the past three years. Everybody knows prices go up. But we kept dipping into our reserves. If we had raised taxes one mill each year we would only be facing a three mill increase," said Frank Bonfield.
Martin stressed that 2/3 of a mill of this increase is going toward the new high school building project. The rest of the tax increase will pay for yearly, ongoing expenses, he said.
Cutting costs: Dominick said the business manager tried to cut as many costs as possible when preparing the budget.
"We even went as far into the budget as cutting the costs on golf balls and buying cheaper ones. We tried everything," he said.
The biggest costs continue to be salaries and insurance fees, which make up more than half the budget. Salary costs increased by $500,000 and medical insurance costs went up nearly $400,000.
In other business, board members agreed to reject bids from two parties interested in moving homes slated for demolition near the city high school, unless they can come up with the cash to move them.
Bidder Randall Hake of Niles is expected to meet with board members at noon Friday to talk about financing plans to move six homes.
Martin said that if Hake has the money, they will give him the homes.
However, School Solicitor Thomas Piccione said he received a letter from Hake's company, the Cynthia Corporation, saying it didn't have enough money to move the six homes it bid on.
Bid rejected: A bid by James Meehan of New Castle for one home was rejected because he made his bid on the condition that the district would cut down trees and move wires. Piccione said agreeing to those conditions would give Meehan an unfair advantage over other bidders.
Board members say they may put the homes out for bid again to anyone who can afford to move them to new locations. If no one can afford to move them, they will likely be demolished in November or December, Martin said.
The homes need to be moved to make way for the planned $30 million high school expected to be built next year.

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