State decision gives board less leeway in raising taxes

June 27th, 2015 1:37 am

First Posted: 4/18/2013

Already feeling a budget crunch, the Wyoming Area School Board will have less leeway in raising taxes, according to Tom Melone, the district’s financial manager. At the April 16 board meeting, Melone explained that the state has reduced the amount of exceptions the district can use when setting tax rates. The Pennsylvania State Department of Education has notified the district that the exceptions total $227,512, meaning a reduction in the amount of tax increase the board can approve.

Melone will do a budget presentation at the regular board meeting on April 23.

Budget woes are causing Wyoming Area School Board members to reconsider the practice of allowing private sports groups use the district’s facilities for free. Several groups, including the West Pittston Rams, are requesting fee waivers.

Fees are defined per district policy. At present, the fees required by the policy stand at $300 for use of the gym, $500 for the use of the auditorium and $1,000 for use of the stadium.

Board vice president Deanna Farrell said that no freebies should be given while the teachers remain without a contract.

But board member Frank Casarella took a more lenient line, saying he believes groups should contribute something to the upkeep of facilities they use. “We have the responsibility for the upkeep and the maintenance,” he said. “There’s a lot of things we need to tighten our belt on and that’s one of them.”

Board member Carl Yorina said the board found itself in a dilemma. “You have these wonderful facilities. You want kids to use them.”

Superintendent Ray Bernardi suggested, “We should reconvene our policy committee and come up with something fair and equitable.”

On a positive note, the Wyoming Area Football Alumni Association has requested permission to update and renovate the district’s weight training facility.

Yorina felt the board needed information on the scope of work the association plans before permission can be granted.

The board also discussed a plan to create a foundation similar to those which have been created by other districts. The foundation would be a 501(c)(3) tax exempt organization separate from the school district.

According to Ferentino, there would be a tax advantage to businesses and individuals who contributed to the proposed foundation. Charitable contributions to such an organization can provide a deduction for federal income tax purposes for some donors.

Ferentino said the work of setting up the foundation would require as much as a year. “It’s an involved process,” he said

“I think it’s an excellent thing,” Casarella said.

District teachers are still working without a contract. It was announced during the board meeting that the next negotiations were to take place on April 17.

After the meeting, teacher union president Melissa Dolman said of the negotiations, “With the upcoming election, things are a little slower.”

But Superintendent Ray Bernard was more upbeat about finally reaching an agreement. “We’re always optimistic,” he said.