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Taxes to Fund High School Renovations Lower than Originally Expected

by on February 03, 2015 7:10 AM

State College taxpayers can expect a pleasant surprise in the coming years.

The taxes to pay for the high school project will be lower than the State College Area School District originally expected before taxpayers approved the project by public referendum last May. 

Members of the school board debated different options for how to begin paying off the $115 million project at their regular Monday meeting, balancing the pros and cons of when to begin introducing the additional taxes required for the extensive rehab job. 

The option the board decided on will introduce the bulk of the taxes in the 2016-2017 school year. Under the plan, the average taxpayer will pay about $118 in the 2015-2016 year, which will jump to about $173 in the 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 years.

Taxpayers will pay this referendum tax for 25 years as the district pays off the debt created by the project. However, the amount paid by the average taxpayer per year is expected to decrease over the years as the tax base grows. The original plan called for taxpayers to shoulder the debt for 30 years, but the board approved a modified 25 year plan at its Jan. 26 meeting.

“This is what we’ve been telling the community all along,” board member Jim Pawelczyk said. “Except we’ve been able to shorten the length of our term, lower the total cost and come in at less than what we communicated to our constituents.”

Pawelczyk noted that the original estimates called for the average taxpayer to pay about $131 in the first year, which would have jumped to over $190 in the second and third years.

Board member Jim Leous expressed some frustrations at the district’s taxing options for the high school project.

The taxes to fund the high school are separate from the taxes that support the district’s day-to-day operations. However, state law requires the district to tax the maximum amount for its operation costs before it can ask the state to allow the additional referendum tax, even though the voters already approved the additional costs at the 2014 referendum.

“Maybe we should be working with our local legislators or the Department of Education about that, because that seems like complete lunacy to me,” Leous said. 

SCASD Director of Physical Plant Ed Poprik also shared good news and bad news about the high school project calendar.

He asked the board to push back its approval of the 60 percent design documents by over a month due to unanticipated challenges in the related state approval process. The board will now approve the 60 percent milestone in late April instead of March.

“Obviously that’s not good news, as we haven’t been able to maintain our schedule,” Poprik said. “But we have a plan to mitigate the adverse effects of the delay and potentially break ground sooner than we’d originally planned.”

Poprik now plans to start construction this summer, though this part of the project will be “very narrow in scope” and will serve as a foundation for more intensive construction in the following year. The board is expected to approve the scope of the summer work on Feb. 23 before awarding bids on April 27.

The board also directed Poprik to begin pursuing new safety measures at the crosswalk that links the two high school buildings on either side of Westerly Parkway. That move comes less than a month after two students suffered minor injuries after being hit by a car while crossing the street.

Poprik and the ELA landscape architecture group will now petition the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to approve new “flashing beacons … almost like strobe lights” that will flash on either side of the street when pedestrians are crossing. The high school project also plans for a new traffic signal on Westerly Parkway to further increase pedestrian safety.

The board also heard an update on how the project plans are progressing as the 60 percent milestone draws closer. Members of the public can attend a public forum to review the plans in detail on Feb. 18 in the high school south building auditorium at 6 p.m..

 

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Michael Martin Garrett is a reporter and editor for StateCollege.com who covers local government, the courts, the arts and writes the Keeping the Faith column. He's a Penn State alumnus, a published poet and the bassist in a local indie rock band.
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