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Loss of liberty and property

ROBERT KEPLER

Renovo

The Keystone Central School Board just handed out another property tax increase.

It’s just a mere 1.96 percent, so relax, except for those that couldn’t afford the last one. The budget is $74,363,531 with a reserve fund balance of $9,721,443. We are being told that a tax increase is necessary so the district doesn’t have to tap into its reserve fund.

Superintendent Jaquelyn Martin says the reccommended level for a reserve fund is $18.5 million, almost 25 percent of the budget.

That’s quite excessive, don’t you think!

Haven’t we gone down this road before with the school district packing away millions of taxpayer dollars in a reserve fund just in case they might need it … only to have it disappear.

In the past we have seen the same practice of a growing committed fund balance. In fiscal year 2011-12 the committed fund balance was $4,390,024. By the 2014-15 fiscal year the committed fund balance ballooned to $15,864,670 and an unassigned fund to $4,805,147 in just four years with a total reserve fund of $20,669,817.

The reserve fund balance was depleted by $13,279,977 from fiscal years 2016-17 to 2018-19 to a balance of $7,437,237.

What was this money spent on?

Instruction for the children?

Supplies for the children?

Uniforms for sports programs?

Or was it spent on the massive pension liability that increases by 34.24 percent each year?

How is this sustainable? Next year the budget deficit will be over $2.5 million and steadily increase to over $12 million in the 2023-24 school year.

Act 48 sets limitations on certain unreserved fund balances. If a school district’s total budgeted expenditures are greater than or equal to $19,000,000, the school district can only have by law 8 percent of its total budget in a unreserved undesignated fund. Example: The budget for the school district is $74,363,531 x 8 percent = $5,949,082 allowed by law in a undesignated fund. The 2019-20 budget has a $1,648,060 unassigned fund balance, a committed fund balance of $7,984,229 and an assigned fund balance of $85,819 with a total of $9,718,108 scheduled for liquidation during the fiscal year.

The question I have is why does the committed fund continue to grow from one year to the next when it is scheduled for liquidation in the fiscal year? The 2018-19 budget had a committed fund balance of $5,083,538. This year’s committed fund balance is $2,920,691 higher than last year, and they still raised taxes.

I thought it was scheduled for liquidation? Is the district skirting Act 48 by placing excess funds into a committed fund that just keeeps growing instead of a unassigned fund where they are limited to 8 percent of the budget?

Over the past year more than 40 teaching and staff positions were supposedly cut along with numerous programs to save millions of dollars and you still have to raise taxes?

How many years have taxpayers paid millions of dollars unnecessarily for teachers they didn’t need?

How much more can the people take?

How many more property tax sales do we have to have before the people stand up and say enough is enough! Did you know that from the 2010-11 school year to 2018-19 over $13 million in revenue has been collected for delinquencies on taxes levied? Thats over $1.5 million per year taken out of the pockets of the people who already can’t afford to pay their taxes on time! This is a disgrace!

The tax increases by the school district and the county are destroying the right to private property. It is destroying wealth and the equity people have in their homes. Almost 60 percent of the county is now owned by the state. The people we elect to work for us should be ashamed of themselves for allowing this to happen. The county commissioners took an oath to support, obey and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of this Commonwealth.

They should be fighting for our private property rights. Instead they support conservancies buy us out with our money! With the increases in property taxes people are being forced to sell off large tracts of private property because it is no longer an investment.

These large tracts of private property are being bought up by the conservancies with your tax dollars from the Realty Transfer Tax, (KEY 93). The land is then donated to DCNR and is controlled by the state. The 5th Amendment of the United States Constitution states the following. ” No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

The Pennsylvania Constitution Declaration of Rights states, ” All men are born equally free and independent, and have certain natural, inherent and inalienable rights, amongst which are, the enjoying and defending life and liberty, acquiring, possessing and protecting property, and pursuing happiness and safety.”

Your right as a citizen to acquire and possess private property is being limited more everyday. The American dream of owning a home and private property is going by the wayside when almost 60 percent of our county is owned by the state. Private ownership circumscribes the power of the state. When a state controls all of the productive resources in society, it can suppress dissent, enforce conformity and stifle democracy. However, in a system in which ownership is held by many individuals, power is more diffused resulting in greater political and economic freedom for the individual.

I believe the loss of private property is the number one issue facing Clinton County! The more private property that is acquired by the state the higher your property taxes go to make up for lost revenue.

Is someone going to step up to the plate and take a stand for our rights guaranteed by the Constitution? Or should we just forget about the 5th Amendment because it doesn’t matter? How about the 1st Amendment and freedom of speech, should we let that slip away also? I hear the commissioners are now limiting when citizens can speak at county meetings. Complain when no one comes to the meetings and when they do come you censure them.

The losss of private property could be stopped with one bill! HB-SB 76, The Property Tax Independence Act. It would eliminate school property taxes by raising the sales tax from 6 percent to 7 percent. The biggest beneficiaries of this bill would be the seniors. They would no longer be booted from their homes because they can’t afford property taxes. When the school property tax is eliminated the Property Tax Rebate Program would no longer be needed and could be reworked for county property taxes. Seniors would be property tax free and there wouldn’t be a need to spend $8 million for taxpayer subdized senior housing!

Has anyone really looked at what you get for $8 million for senior housing? You get 32 units at a cost of $250,000 per unit. WOW! Instead of 32 units, why not buy 32 $100,000 homes for the seniors and it would only cost $3.2 million and you would save $4.8 million. How about Mills Park in Renovo where there are 27 units sitting empty. It’s for sale for about $650,000. Thats about $24,000 per unit! A savings of $225,000 per unit! If the Clinton County Housing Authority already has control of Mills Park you just saved $8 million and it’s move-in ready! But God forbid we give Renovo a shot in the arm to get their economy growing with some senior housing!

The financial crisis at KCSD was created by trying to grow the district bigger even though enrollment was dropping. Hiring more teachers than what was needed. Handing out massive salaries without concern if the taxpayer could afford them. These salaries led to even bigger pensions that are now unsustainable. The school district is now looking at financial failure in less than four years with a $12 million budget deficit.

You would think the county commissioners would take a good look at what is happening at KCSD because they are headed down the same path. Over spending, growing government bigger, pay raises, handing out bigger salaries which lead to bigger pensions and property taxes up 26 percent in seven years.

Clinton County is experiencing some economic growth, but it isn’t because of the reckless management by the school district and county commissioners.

It’s because of our President Donald Trump cutting income taxes, the corporate tax rate and cutting regulations. You can’t have sustainable economic growth as long as government continues to grow bigger and taxes continue to rise! Conservatism is the only thing that works!

The figures for KCSD are from their website.

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