GROVE CITY – Property owners in Grove City Area School District will pay higher real estate taxes next school year.
Board members on Monday night approved a $42,821,667 2022-23 budget with a 2-mill tax hike.
The board adopted the budget in a 7 to 1 vote, with Lee McCracken as the lone dissenter.
Those voting in favor of the spending plan were Dr. Constance Nichols, Patty Wilson, Randy Arnold, Ryan Thomas, Dr. Armando Sciullo, Dr. Jeffrey Tedford and Doug Gerwick.
Augie Hurst was absent.
The vote to raise taxes from 66 to 68 mills passed 5 to 3 with Sciullo, McCracken and Arnold voting “no” and Nichols, Wilson, Thomas, Tedford and Gerwick voting “yes.”
Under the new budget, the owner of a property valued at $20,000 under Mercer County’s property assessment, which dates to the early 1970s, would pay $1,360 in school taxes, an increase of $40 from last year.
Moving forward, board members need to focus on charter school reform, which costs the district and taxpayers a lot of money, Wilson said.
When a district student enrolls in a charter school, the state redirects some of the schools funding — based on a formula that takes into account factors including the district’s per-student spending — to the charter school.
Criticisms of this approach, including Gov. Tom Wolf, call for adopting a formula that accounts for the charter school’s per-student expenditures. In the case of cyber charter schools that don’t have brick-and-mortar classrooms, Wolf and other critics say, charter schools receive more money than they need to educate students.
Tedford said the charter school spending does not serve the district’s students well.
All school districts are required under state law to pass a budget by June 30.
Change to assessment appeal process fails
Board members failed to approve the authorization of a real estate tax assessment appeal program for tax year 2023.
Wilson, Tedford and Gerwick voted in favor of the motion while Nichols, Arnold, McCracken, Thomas and Sciullo voted against it.
The program would have included residential, commercial and industrial properties recently sold within the district as a way to generate additional real estate tax revenues for general school operations, according to the proposal put together by Andrews and Price, LLC, the district’s solicitor.
Appeals could have been filed on properties sold in 2021 and 2022 where the difference between the current county assessment and assessment from the recorded purchase price generates at least $1,000 in additional school taxes.
McCracken said the idea of going back to certain property owners and telling them their taxes would go up gives him heartburn, especially since the board raises taxes last school year.
Nichols said she was hesitant about the retroactive aspect of the proposal, noting that Mercer County has not carried out a comprehensive property assessment in about 50 years.
The board should find out if any other school boards are considering similar programs, McCracken said.
Andrew Evankovich, an attorney with Andrews and Price, said that his firm has helped set up these kinds of programs in other counties.
“Let’s not make Grove City the land of high real estate taxes,” McCracken said.
The proposal presented to the board would be more fair if other entities in the county adopted it, Arnold said with Wilson agreeing.
Arnold said the change wouldn’t be a tax increase, but rather a “cleaning up of the books.”
The board can revisit the issue after researching it further, Nichols said.
Over the past year, property owners have filed appeals with the county for certified appraisals, though the county is behind on completing those reassessments, Superintendent Dr. Jeffrey Finch said.
For example, some hotels have filed appeals with the county for property tax reassessments, which worked out in the hotels’ favor, he said.
Grove City Area School District covers Grove City borough, and Liberty, Pine, Wolf Creek and Springfield townships.