“Why are Upper Adams’ taxes higher than everybody else’s?”

With 2019-2020 budget adoption just days away, Upper Adams School Board member Ron Ebbert asked and answered that question Tuesday during a committee meeting.

Upper Adams’ small tax base means it must charge more “mills,” the basic unit of property taxation, than any other Adams County district, Ebbert said. A mill equals one one-thousandth of a dollar, or $1 of tax for every $1,000 of a property’s assessed value.

But “all mills aren’t created equal,” said Ebbert, who distributed tables of figures comparing the county’s six school districts.

For the 2017-18 school year, according to Ebbert’s information, Upper Adams’ rate of 14.4659 mills generated just over $12.7 million, equal to $878,243 per mill or $518 for each of the district’s 1,697 students.

By contrast, Ebbert said, the Gettysburg Area School District’s rate of 10.8167 mills generated nearly $31.9 million, equal to nearly $2.95 million per mill or $936 for each of its 3,146 students.

Earned income tax revenues (EIT) also reflect a divide among more and less prosperous districts, Ebbert said.

Upper Adams’ EIT generated nearly $2.59 million in 2017-19, or $1,523 per student, according to Ebbert, while Gettysburg’s EIT generated nearly $6.11 million, or $1,941 per student.

As state funding has dwindled over the years, Harrisburg has permitted poorer districts to impose larger property tax increases, Ebbert said.

The upshot is a “rigged” and “totally ridiculous” system which essentially forces some taxpayers to pay higher rates “because they’re poorer,” he said.

Last month, the board tentatively approved a 2019-20 budget which includes a 2.5-percent property tax increase, equal to about $5 per month for a home assessed at the district average value of $183,158, officials said.

The proposed hike would be less than the state-permitted maximum for the first time in years. The state-set cap for Upper Adams without a referendum is 3.2 percent.

The proposed millage is 15.3167, versus the current 14.9432 mills.

A final adoption vote is planned during the board’s next regular meeting June 18 at 7 p.m. in the board room at Biglerville High School. It is to be preceded at 6:30 p.m. by an agenda review session open to the public.

In other business Tuesday, the board reviewed proposed pay increases for 2019-20 that are also to be voted on June 18.

The district’s 50 classified staff members, 11 administrators, and Business Manager Belinda Wallen would all receive cost-of-living adjustments of 2.8 percent plus additional amounts based on performance evaluations.

For classified staff, the total increase over 2018-2019 would be $46,590 or 4.35 percent. For administrators, the increase would total $49,271 or 4.64 percent. For Wallen, it would be $5,176, or 4.64 percent.

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