School board directors grappled for hours Monday night with the Bangor Area School District’s finances before approving a proposed $51.6 million budget that carries a 2.7 percent tax hike.
The board heard from Ron Angle, the former school board and former Northampton County Councilman, before voting on the tentative budget.
Angle, waiving a long list of homes in foreclosure headed for the June sheriff’s sale, said homeowners cannot afford to pay higher taxes.
“People are broke,” Angle said, disputing claims the economy is recovering from the Great Recession. He said the foreclosures are driven by a number of factors, typically a lost job or reduced hours.
But, he added, “It’s the school tax that brings them down. That’s the killer.” Instead of raising taxes, he said, “You have to make cuts.”
Councilman Bob Cartwright agreed, saying “2.7 percent is insane.”
Superintendent Frank DeFelice predicted that by the time the board meets June 23 to approve the final budget, the tax hike should be more palatable.
During the budget discussions, DeFelice said the district is reviewing ways to trim costs.
“I feel confident we can definitely get this lower,” he said, referring to the proposed tax hike.
Business Manager Stephen Wiencek, who is leaving the district in August, recommended the proposed 2.7 percent hike but in response to a question from Cartwright, he said if he were a school board member he would want the official hike to be between 1.0 and 1.5 percent.
It would take the elimination of at least five teaching positions to reduce the tax hike to 1.0 percent, he said.
“As of now we don’t have five positions to cut,” board president Pam Colton said.
Regarding cuts, one area Angle, who at one point charged “no one is paying attention,” suggested was the legal fees the district has been paying its solicitor, attorney Donald Spry, a topic that councilman has raised in recent meetings.
“They are looking at that,” Colton said.
According to the school district, Spry’s firm was paid $178,000 in 2013 and $206,000 in 2012.
“Everyone who thinks that’s a fair amount raise your hand,” Angle asked the board.
No one did.
During a recent meeting with a committee looking into the matter, Spry determined he had over billed $8,100 this year and offered a rebate, said Cartwright, who suggested the board look back further into older billing records.
DeFelice said the district will contact state officials Tuesday for advice on how the district might go about that and who might be the best agency to perform the task.
In another development, Colton said the teacher’s union recently voted down a proposed three-year contract.
The district also announced a replacement for Wiencek. He is Mark Schiavone from Merchants Bank in Bangor. Schiavone will be paid $90,000 a year.