A proposed increase in real estate taxes is in the works for property owners in the Cumberland Valley School District, but district officials say it’s not because of the district’s planned purchase of the McCormick Farm.
On Monday night, the Cumberland Valley School Board tentatively approved a $140,165,287 general fund budget for 2018-19 that would increase the district’s real estate millage rate from 9.516 mills to 9.744 mills. This means that a property owner assessed at the district average of $243,100 would pay an additional $55.43 in real estate taxes for next year for an annual total of about $2,369.
The 2.4 percent tax increase would meet the index set for the district by the state Department of Education for the 2018-19 fiscal year from July 1, 2018, to June 30, 2019. The school board is mandated to finalize next year’s budget before July 1.
The tentative budget was approved by the board in a 7-2 vote on Monday. Voting against the proposal were school directors Pamela Long and Robert Walker. Long declined to comment on why she voted against the proposal, while Walker said he didn’t believe a tax increase is necessary for next year.
“Every year we’ve been presented with tax increases, and then every year we’ve subsequently found that we’ve had a budget surplus,” Walker said. “Our administration does a good job, but they have to more closely match our revenues and expenditures.”
School board member Heather Dunn, who is chair of the district’s finance committee, said the “main reason” for the proposed tax increase is the addition of 36 employees for the new Winding Hill Elementary School that is scheduled to open in August.
What isn’t causing the proposed tax increase is the district’s plan to purchase the McCormick Farm property in Silver Spring Township for $1.6 million, Dunn said. Instead, that money would come from the district’s Public School Employees’ Retirement System reserve fund.
“I did support the tax increase, but I don’t support the land purchase at this time,” Dunn said after the vote.
In what has become customary in recent months, the crowd at Monday night’s meeting was filled with opponents of the land purchase. Township historian Christine Musser presented the school board with a petition with more than 500 signatures opposing the sale. Signatures were collected online and door-to-door over the past two weeks, Musser said.
The school district plans to acquire through eminent domain 110 acres of a 116-acre parcel at 31 Old Willow Mill Road now zoned as agricultural preserve. The property, which borders Carlisle Pike in Silver Spring Township around Hogestown, is listed for sale by a real estate firm for $1.6 million.
“The decision of the board (to acquire the land) made me very sad and disappointed,” Larry Claycomb, of Middlesex Township, told the board. “I want you to consider what you’re doing and the precedent you’re setting.”
Board president Michael Gossert told the crowd that district officials are planning to conduct a town hall meeting about the matter on a undetermined date in May. Information will be posted on the district’s website about the meeting as it becomes available, he said.
In January, the school board approved a resolution authorizing the district to negotiate the purchase. Although the district obtained legal title of the land on March 5 when it issued a declaration of taking, no money has been exchanged for the deal at this point, Superintendent Frederick Withum said on Monday.
Pursuant to the eminent domain code, notices of condemnation for the lot were issued on March 21 to the Lee family, which owns the land, and Natural Lands, which holds the property’s conservation easement deed. The district then was required to wait 30 days to see if either party would legally oppose the action.
Since then, Natural Lands has filed a petition to halt the land transfer, Withum confirmed on Monday. The matter first will go to Cumberland County’s court system, then could possibly advance to the Commonwealth Court or the state Supreme Court.