Northeastern board approves high school overhaul, 9-year tax hike

Northeastern Middle School in Manchester, Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Northeastern School District voted Monday to move forward with its nine-year plan to renovate its high school.

The board approved the master plan and first project — for a cost of $27.19 million — to be completed in August 2022. The cost of all three projects included in the plan would be about $100 million, and the plan is projected to take nine years.

To finance the project, an 0.22 millage increase was passed as part of the district's final budget. The project assumes an annual tax increase to fund it.  

That would mean the average annual taxpayer bill in fiscal year 2020 would be about $4,418 annually — or $37 more than current millage after the first year —  based on a median sale price of $166,900 in the district, according to April projections from the Realtors Association of York & Adams Counties.

Renovations to the district's high school are badly needed after more than 60 years without any major updates, school officials have said. And though project costs were reduced significantly from earlier projections, the district would still need to increase taxes each year to manage its debt from the bill.

More:Northeastern high school overhaul could boost taxes for years

The plan would include using about $10 million from the district’s capital reserve fund, phasing in financing structures over time and setting a tax increase of 0.22 mills each year through 2029.

The revised master plan passed 7-2, with Mike Redding and Eric Hornberger voting against it, and the first phase was approved with a vote of 6-3, with Mike Redding, Eric Hornberger and Kevin Gebhart voting no, said Superintendent Stacey Sidle, when reached Tuesday.

Some board members had concerns over cost, she said, and the meeting was well-attended by residents, who were able to engage in a healthy dialogue with the district.

Director of Operations Brian Geller noted the district has the second-highest millage rate in the county, according to minutes from the board's May 20 meeting, where a presentation was given about the plan prior to a vote on Monday, June 3.

More:Many York County school districts propose tax increases for 2019-20 budgets

More:State caps on York County school district tax increases fall second year in a row

Board members and officials discussed the lack of a tax increase for the past few years as well as past spending and saving, but a few residents of East Manchester Township spoke out against the increase, minutes state.

Al Dallasta said he already pays high taxes and does not want to see an increase, while Brant Curtis said he is considering a move because of taxes — saying they are "driving families out of the district," according to minutes.

Sidle said the June 3 meeting served to dispel some misinformation — such as board members not living in the district and paying taxes — and better educate the community about millage.

For example, she said, Geller was able to explain that millage comparisons between districts are not apples to apples — and that the same millage raise in other districts could mean almost double the revenue depending on other factors.

"I think that's very confusing for some people," Sidle said.

The number of businesses in a community is a major factor, she said, and the district is hoping to bring in more businesses through the Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance program, which gives tax exemptions to businesses that move in.