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Tyrone Area opts out of Act 72

Tyrone Area School District joined the vast majority of area districts by voting no to “opt in” to the state’s gambling-generated property tax relief program.
Last night, the board voted by a 7 to 2 margin against “opting in” to allow property owners to receive a reduction on their tax bills in return for raising the earned income tax by 0.1 percent for district residents effective with the year the district would have started receiving slot machine-generated gaming funds. School board members Raymond Detwiler and Peter Dutrow were the two school board members who voted yes for participation in the program.
Statewide, the latest figures show only 88 districts had opted in and 269 had opted out as of yesterday at 4:30 p.m., according to the Pennsylvania School Board Association’s Web site. The figure does not include Tyrone’s decision. The site is updated twice daily at 12 noon and 4:30 p.m.
Districts have until Monday to decide whether or not they want to participate in the Act 72 program. Based on the figures from PSBA, only about one-fourth of the state’s 501 districts have decided to “opt in.” Locally, an even higher percentage of districts voted against accepting the funding. In addition to Tyrone Area, Bellwood-Antis, Altoona, Huntingdon and Phillipsburg-Osceola have been among schools which voted against participating in the program.
After last night’s meeting, Detwiler said, “I felt it was in the best interest of the people, the taxpayers are being gouged, and here’s $150 to $250 maybe more, that was substantial relief as far as taxes. Over 70 percent of the people here in Blair County filled out the Homestead Exclusion (form) that they wanted it, so I had to support it.
“(School education expert) Dr. Hartman, who we hired, has told the school board and our administration that Act 72 would not affect Tyrone because of how we sit financially and the fact our schools are, hopefully, almost completed. Act 72 would not affect us, so why not give it a try.”
Dutrow said, “(I) looked at the people who are paying taxes and my personal feeling is that it was in the best interest of the people to ‘opt in.’”
Dutrow also reacted to the board’s overall vote to decline participation.
“I hope it was correct, obviously, I’ll go along with the decision of the board.”
School board member Rev. Norman Huff said, “With the whole Act 72, no one understands it, I don’t understand it.”
Huff, who voted to “opt out” of the program, indicated he thought state lawmakers had done things in such a way that it was difficult to “know what they were up to.”
He said he had attended dozens of seminars and meetings about the issue during the last year-and-a-half and still came away without a clear understanding of the law.
In regard to his decision, he said, “Gambling was a part of it, but it’s not the main issue. There’s going to be gambling.”
In reaction to the board’s decision, superintendent Dr. William N. Miller said, “It was difficult to predict what action they might take, at one point in time I thought they might opt in. As of late, I questioned whether they actually would. So, the vote tonight really didn’t surprise me.
“Personally, I was a little concerned about those on fixed incomes, those retired, that (it) would have benefited them.”
He added, “Not looking at it from the aspect of evils and the social aspect of gambling and promoting it and the time tables (regarding) budgeting, and all the other issues that are confusing…if you mix it all together, it was a benefit to some select individuals, the farmers too.”
Miller mentioned those with higher incomes would have been negatively impacted. He also said the district’s expert, Dr. Hartman, never gave the district a specific recommendation on whether or not it should “opt in” or “out.”
He explained Hartman presented information to allow the districts which used his services to make a decision based on the specific economic make-up of a district.
Basically, the lower the income a district’s residents have, the more they would stand to benefit from the property tax break.
He also said the district could have lived with the various issues which might have come up had the board decided to go along with the program. Those issues included having to create budgets sooner rather than later and getting determinations from the state education department if certain tax increases would require a voter referendum.
“I thought those were conditions we could have probably lived with because our tax increases have never been significant enough that would have caused a referendum (under Act 72 requirements).”
After the vote on Act 72, the board also approved a preliminary budget for the 2005-06 which calls for a three-mill tax increase. The budget must be advertised before final adoption. The board scheduled a June 28 meeting to consider final adoption of the budget among other regular business.