I want to open by making a correction to a date mentioned in the Octorara Taxpayers’ Concerns Dismissed post. It references a news article regarding residents questioning limiting the High School renovation project. The news article is from August 15, 2007, not the originally stated October 2008. This means concerned citizens were told 14 months before construction contracts where awarded and authorization given to proceed, that it was too late to change course.
The school board meeting referenced is from the August 13, 2007 Work Session Meeting. Despite the news reporting more than 50 people being at the meeting, and at least one person speaking out with Dr Newcome responding, the official minutes did not include the comments.
Somehow, it appears, the reporter from Intelligencer Journal’s online version was able see into the future. The board meeting mentioned in the August 15, 2007 article seems to more accurately reflect the August 20, 2007 Regular Meeting, which included 118 citizens and 2 reporters. The visitor comments included many individuals voicing their concern over the ever increasing tax rates, and the possibility of losing their homes.
Mr. Mark Daddario, West Fallowfield Township, shared that his taxes have increased 15.91 mils over the past five years at a cost of $136 per week for taxes. He doesn’t oppose the renovations project, but opposes higher taxes. The district needs to find another source for funding other than the taxpayers.
Mr. Lapp of Atglen doesn’t understand the increase for taxes and wonders what can be expected in the next 6 to 10 years.
Mr. Rich Booth, West Fallowfield Township doesn’t understand the milage difference between Lancaster County residents and Chester County residents living in the Octorara Area School District. Mr. Lee responded that the fair market values set by the Pennsylvania Tax Equalization Board is different for Lancaster and Chester Counties. This is something that the district doesn’t set. Mr. Booth noted his tax increase of $900 in the last three years. Dr. Newcome shared that Mr. Lee would be glad to set up meetings with individuals to discuss the mils and how the budget is developed, anyone interested should contact Mr. Lee in the District Office.
Mr. David Nissley, Sadsbury Township, has concerns with continuing to raise taxes and questioned when it will stop. Mr. Nissley understands the renovation need, but has concerns with the continual rise in taxes.
Ms. Cuddy, Highland Township, asked if there was going to be an accounting of construction costs and where the dollars are being spent. She wanted to know what the district is planning on doing to keep the taxpayers from moving out of the area because of taxes.
Ms. Trish Underwood shared the difficulty for people on fixed incomes paying for their taxes. She feels the Board needs to be concerned with the older residents and asked that state representatives attend these meetings.
Mr. Daniel King, Sadsbury Township, discussed his tax increases. Mr. King shared that he pays $600 per month in taxes. Mr. King made some improvements to his property, but doesn’t feel this justifies his increase. He would like to set up a meeting to discuss his situation.
Mr. Kevin Stirling, Parkesburg, shared this decision is beyond the Board and asked how high his taxes can go. He asked the Board to consider what his children will do with no home to live in, but a nice school to go to because of his taxes.
Mr. Bill Snyder, Sadsbury Township, shared that he is retired and on a fixed income.
Jump ahead to August 18, 2008 Regular Work Season Meeting, and there are continued concerns about the tax rate:
Mrs. Maurice Alexander of Cochranville provided information concerning the amount of real estate taxes that they are paying the school district. Mrs. Alexander provided information that she has been married for 61 years and have raised children and have cared for foster children in the school district for a number of years. Mrs. Alexander questioned the taxes that they are paying and the possibility of the school board cutting the tax amount that they owe. Mrs. Alexander indicated that they cannot keep paying these taxes and they do not want to be in a situation that they would lose their home. Mrs. Alexander thanked the school board for the work that they do and for allowing her to make her concerns known to the school board.
The original date to award the contract, and give notice to proceed was October 2008. However, the timetable was moved up to a Special Meeting on September 22, 2008. At the September 15, 2008 Regular Meeting it is noted:
Mr. Lee reviewed information concerning the special meeting. Mr. Lee distributed copies of the proposed agenda that action would be required during the special meeting scheduled for September 22, 2008.
Ms. Bicking asked about the special meeting and if this meeting would authorize the moving forward of the project. Mr. Lee indicated that the special meeting would be for the purpose of awarding bids and authorization to proceed with the project. Mr. Ganow asked if the meeting was properly advertised. Mr. Lee indicated that the meeting has been advertised and that it should be in the newspapers September 15, 2008. Mr. Breslin indicated that he needs to feel comfortable with the alternates reviewed at tonight’s meeting. Mr. Breslin indicated that if changes are made during the special meeting, this would prevent awarding of bids and he would need to revise the bid summary for submission to the PA Department of Education.
Why was the timetable moved up, and why was there only a week’s notice given? Both the October 13th and 20th 2008 school board meetings mention only that Directors acknowledge receipt and approval of PLANCON Part F: “Construction Documents” and PLANCON Part G: “Project Accounting Based on Bids” from the PA Department of Education. No visitor comments were noted at either meeting.
Was the special meeting a way to avoid another confrontation with taxpayers?