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Eastern taxpayers angry over audit, impending increase

Alyssa Jackson
505-5438/@AlyssaJacksonYD
  • There was a large turnout at the school board Thursday night to discuss a recent audit of the district.
  • The audit shows the district's fund balance having decreased since June 2011.
  • School taxes were raised this year, and officials expect them to be raised next year to alleviate the problem, sparking anger.

A large crowd turned out at Eastern York's school board meeting on Thursday night to express their anger at school taxes and what some referred to as "out-of-control" spending.

The turnout was in response to a school tax increase this year and a recent audit of the district that showed its fund balance has decreased drastically over the past several years.

The audit followed the district's spending from the 2010-11 fiscal year through the 2014-15 fiscal year and showed the general fund balance, which is essentially the school district's savings account, had dropped $4.2 million, or 71 percent. Fund balance information is used by financial agencies to determine credit ratings, and therefore a districts' borrowing costs.

To alleviate the problem, the district raised taxes in May by 6.7 percent, from 21.02 mills in the 2015-16 school year to 22.43 mills for the upcoming school year. In the audit and in an interview, the district's assistant business manager, Tim Senft, said taxes will probably be raised for the 2017-18 school year as well, but he is unsure by how much.

Eastern York district's fund balance down 71 percent

District residents were angered by the high tax increase and the decreased fund balance, which continued to decrease during the 2015-16 school year. The fund balance is currently $1.07 million — 2.5 percent of budgeted expenses. School board policy 620 states that the school district will maintain a general fund balance between 5 percent and 8 percent of its overall expenditures.

Gilbert Zink, a Eastern York School District resident that lives on Valley View Road, asked the board if any money had been used out of the fund balance toward the turf football field, which was built five years ago. The board says it was not; in the audit, the district stated that appeals to local real estate property assessments and unbudgeted building repairs were a few of the reasons for dipping into the fund balance.

Eastern York General Fund Amanda J. Cain graphic

But Zink said he believes that the board has a spending problem.

"When I came to this meeting tonight, you know what I heard? Spend, spend, spend," he said, following the meeting. "They need to get their s--- together and save money."

Zink said that when he first purchased his home in the 1980s, his taxes were just a couple hundred dollars per year, Now he pays more than $3,300 per year in taxes.

Other residents, such as Crystal Bolton, who has three boys in the school district and lives in Wrightsville, are upset that the district wasn't more transparent in providing information regarding the tax increase.

"I had to have counseling today on how to get through the agendas and minutes," she said, referring to the area on the district website where prior board meeting agendas and minutes are located. "I think there needs to be a little more transparency, some way to get this information out to parents."

Community members on fixed incomes, such as Jim Walker of Fahringer Drive, face unique challenges when it comes to tax increases. Being retired, he told the board that he felt as if they were essentially stealing from him by passing these high taxes.

"I'm very angry," he said. "This tax increase, it's called legalized theft. ... You better think of that when you vote for a new tax increase."

One-to-one: The board also held a discussion on whether the students would be able to keep their Chromebook laptop computers after graduation. Superintendent Darla Pianowski explained that after four years of use the computers begin to break down. The cost of fixing the wear and tear tends to make less sense than just buying a new item for $180, she said.

Because the discussion was not originally on the agenda, school board president Mark Keller allowed a moment for public comment. Chad Shelly, a district resident in attendance, argued that students should be doing work around the schools to earn the computers rather than just given the computers per the school's one-to-one policy. The one-to-one initiative means that every student in the high school has a small computer that they can use in school and at home for schoolwork in lieu of textbooks or other materials.

“You don’t just give things away, you earn them as an American,”  he said. “I’m working hard to pay for these taxes.”

Keller reminded Shelly that the computers save money in textbook costs, and that textbooks were given to students for free, too. After the public comment, the board unanimously passed the motion to allow students graduating this year to keep computers that are at least four years old.

At the end of the meeting, board member Richard Zepp made a public comment explaining that part of the problem with the taxes in Eastern York relates to the lack of new businesses in the area. He stated that the district doesn't have the tax base to offset homeowner taxes and said that the board regrets having to raise taxes.

"I'm extremely empathetic about what's going on," he said. He explained that the board has cut $5.5 million out of the school budget and is doing all it can to remedy the situation. He encouraged community members to get involved by attending the school board meetings, committee meetings and even applying for the vacant position on the board.

"We don't have a spending problem in this district when you look at it in detail," Zepp said. "I'm not making light of anything, but you have to get involved."