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Central York mulls significant tax increase amid staffing shortage

Meredith Willse
York Dispatch

Central York School District residents may see a significant tax increase this year as officials grapple with short staffing and the fallout of inflation.

The current proposed budget, which was the subject of heated debate at Monday's school board planning meeting, calls for raising the tax millage rate by 2%. Brent A. Kessler, the board’s secretary, said that would translate to an increase of $67.71 for the average homeowner's tax bill.

Kessler said the tax increase would generate another $1.2 million in revenue toward the proposed $101.2 million budget for the next fiscal year.

Board President Kyle King said there were 60 staff vacancies in the schools and the district was “bleeding support staff," adding they can’t compete with the private sector.

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At this point, King said he does not see the financial state of the county, state or country improving. He also expressed concern with the school cutting a school resource officer position.  

Board member Tim Strickler proposed a 2% millage increase annually from fiscal year 2022-2023 to fiscal year 2026-2027. He believes the increase, which is halfway to the allowed maximum, would help the district “turn the corner to head back to fiscal health.”

But fellow board member Amy Milsten, who was elected last fall, said the current proposal does not allow the schools to hire new staff or to offer raises in order to keep staff from going to the private sector. She said the 2% increase is not looking at the big picture and called proposal a “shoestring budget” that barely gets the district by.

In introducing the budget proposal, Strickler said the district has burned through its reserves and there is no room for future debt service. Over the last six years, he said, its operating fund fell from $9.1 million to $4 million. Spending increased annually by about $3.2 million over the same period.

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The district, he said, needs “thoughtful expenditure management, some reasonable taxation increases and prudent capital expenditure planning."

Strickler's goal is to rebuild the district's capital fund — for long-term projects — to $5 million to $15 million.

Without any tax increase, Strickler said the district would fall into the red in three years.

“We wouldn’t be able to pay our bills,” he said.

Central York School Board candidate Amy Yankowitz-Milsten waits for voters while campaigning at the City View Community Church polling location in Manchester Township, Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021.  Dawn J. Sagert photo

Kessler said the school district's expenses include a projected salary increase of $1,001,159, medical insurance increase of $513,023 and $267,262 for cyber and charter school costs.

The schools will also be adding four new positions, which will total $241,945. The positions are a high school art teacher, a special education high school teacher and two special education high school instructional assistants.

Milsten said she was concerned the proposal had too many "what-ifs" and that it did not account for issues such as inflation and infrastructure costs at the schools.

Strickler, amid a lengthy back-and-forth with Milsten, said the district doesn’t have the “luxury” to have a large budgetary cushion.

Over the course of the debate, Milsten raised concerns about structural issues at the district's various schools. Strickler responded that the $1 million of capital expenditures will allow the district to care for the buildings.

“In terms of what-ifs, we always have what-ifs,” he said.

Board member Rebecca Riek said she is hoping restoring fiscal health will not be at the expense of what students need. She hopes the board will not have to say no to something the students need because it was not in the budget.

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Treasurer Vickie Guth said the schools have doubled the number of homeless students, which reflects the financial hardship out in the community. Regardless, she expressed support for the 2% tax increase.

Strickler said the board was stuck “with a lot of moving parts.” He said it is difficult handling collective bargaining with teachers and support staff, making a budget and a fiscal crisis.

The budget will be up for consideration at Monday's board meeting, with a final vote expected in June. The board can make changes and vote on those changes in that meeting.  

In other news, Nicole Montgomery, director of communications and marketing, said the district is revamping the website. She gave the board a sneak preview for the website that will go live May 23.

Montgomery said it will serve as a digital campus with websites for the seven buildings. The website will be able to showcase students’ work and will also work on a parent’s phone. It will also give the parents the ability to get texts on need-to-know information, celebration and school closures.  

— Reach Meredith Willse at mwillse@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @MeredithWillse.

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