'When is enough enough?': West York district approves max tax hike

Junior Gonzalez, 505-5439/@JuniorG_YD
  • The West York School Board voted 6-3 to pass a budget and increase property taxes.
  • Property taxes will rise by 3.2 percent, the highest allowed under its index from the Department of Education.
  • Board members argued over the need for raising taxes while holding a high general fund balance.

A divided West York school board passed a budget Tuesday night with the highest tax hike allowed by the state, prompting some members to ask, "When is enough enough?"

The $56.8 million budget has essentially the same programs and allocations as last year’s budget, but costs went up for existing programs and services, according to district Superintendent Emilie Lonardi.

The board approved the plan with a 6-3 vote.

The millage rate in the West York district will rise from 23.47 to 24.22 mills, an increase of 3.2 percent — the same as the tax cap assigned to the district by the state Department of Education.

For a home assessed at $100,000, the hike will equate to an extra $72 in next year's tax bill.

Without the tax increase, the district would have to take $2.46 million from its fund balance to cover expenses. 

Arguments: Board directors were split on the vote, with some members expressing strong disapproval of the increase.

Board member George Margetas said he found the increase unnecessary given the district’s financial position.

“We’re still a healthy school district by every account,” he said. “I think we’re being very, very irresponsible.”

Margetas said no one specifically was at fault for the budget talks ending in such an increase, but the board would be held  accountable.

“As a board, we need to be more responsible to our taxpayers,” he said.

“The future doesn’t look as bleak as we were once told, and I hope we consider that moving forward,” Margetas added, receiving strong applause from the audience.

Board Vice President Todd Gettys said the district has more than $12 million in its fund balance, which is more than double the state minimum for school districts.

“When is enough enough?” he said. “I think it’s enough.”

Gettys said that although he expected the budget to pass, the problem will linger in the district.

“I’m not in favor of unbalanced budgets, but tax increases are (becoming) synonymous with the West York way,” he said, “and that can’t continue.”

Board member Ralph Brandt said voting against a tax increase would be irresponsible for the district. He recalled other districts with small fund balances going to banks for funds to keep schools open.

“I, too, hate taxes and I hate tax increases, but at this point, I can’t see the wisdom in getting ourselves into (that) position,” he said.

After hearing Brandt’s comments, Gettys pressed board members to state when they would oppose a tax increase.

“There are other districts that don’t raise taxes,” he said, “I would love for some of the fellow directors who are going to vote for this tax increase to simply state what is your number? When is enough enough?”

Taxpayer: West York resident John Lauer said he was “furious” at the board’s vote.

“They’re telling me they have $12 million ... and they’re giving us the highest tax rate that they possibly can?” he said. “It makes no sense whatsoever.”

Lauer said West York is a working-class community, and some people, especially older residents, will be hurt by the increases.

“They have an excessive surplus of money, and people will lose their homes because of this,” he said.

Lauer said he hopes legislation such as the Property Tax Independence Act, known as SB 76, will pass. Otherwise, he said, he will consider leaving his hometown.

“I’m seriously ready to leave this school district and move,” he said.

Superintendent: Lonardi said she expects the district to continue to raise taxes in the future.

“As soon as we can consistently balance (the budget), we won’t raise taxes,” she said, “but we’re a year or three away from that.”

Lonardi said there's reason to be hopeful. New restaurants, additional merchants at the West Manchester Town Center and the upcoming transfer of Memorial Hospital to the area will boost the district’s coffers with revenue from commercial properties, she added.

Lonardi said the district is working to improve its financial footing, but it will be without much help from the state.

“We’re 46th out of 50 states in state funding for public schools,” she said. “If they would fund us like other states (do), we’d be in a much better place (financially).”

West York board members approved a $56.8 million budget Tuesday night, May 23, 2017. Many audience members stayed only for the budget vote. Junior Gonzalez, jgonzalez@yorkdispatch.com