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South taxpayers decry spot appeals

School board adds city mayor to substitute teacher list

The audience at South Williamsport Area School Board’s meeting Monday night was packed, almost entirely with people upset about the district’s spot appeals policy adopted this past spring.

Under the policy, the district culls records of property sales in the district in the past three years, uses a complex formula to compare the sales price with the assessed value, and appeals the assessment if it appears an updated assessment will yield a higher property value and subsequently a higher tax bill.

In addition to residents affected by the policy, professionals from the real estate and mortgage fields voiced their opposition.

“Seniors on a budget are often counting each dollar,” Kevin Hodrick of the West Branch Valley Association of Realtors said.

Hodrick said while the policy is especially punitive to senior citizens who have recently downsized their housing to save money, its impact is wide-ranging. He said the district has considered such policies in the past but the disparate impact and potential for unforeseen consequences, coupled with public outcry, led the boards at those times to change course.

Another real estate agent, Lori Solomon, of Weichert Realtors and also a South Williamsport resident, said the policy already is pushing potential homebuyers to look elsewhere.

“Potential buyers do their homework,” she said.

Other district residents said the appeals are leading their real estate tax bills to double or even triple.

District Superintendent Mark Stamm said the district’s data reflected average annual increases of about $300, while District Solicitor Fred Holland explained that the policy is not a true reassessment but an appeal of assessed values, affording property owners a chance to counter-appeal to the county. Holland added that both South Williamsport and Muncy are conducting the appeals. School Board President Christopher Branton said the district is limited in its options by state law and a lack of action by county government to authorize an across-the-board reassessment.

“A good solution would be for the county to do a reassessment,” Holland said.

In other business, the board accepted the retirement of Dennis Artley, the district’s business manager, added Williamsport Mayor Gabriel Campana to the substitute teacher list and had a close vote on sending several teachers to conferences.

Board member Erica Molino questioned the expense of sending faculty members to four conferences. She noted other districts facing lean times had halted the practice.

“The school districts didn’t fall apart,” she said.

Board member Nathan Miller concurred and also questioned if the cost of substitute teachers to cover for the absent faculty was factored in.

Stamm said the substitute teachers and transportation costs were budgeted and the expense is funded by federal grants, which are limited to certain designated uses. As the district does not have a teacher recruitment or retention initiative, the conferences are one of the few ways the district can spend the money.

Board members Molino, Miller, Sue Bowman and Airneezer Page voted no as Branton, Cathy Bachman, Gregg Anthony, Steve Persun and Sue Davenport voted yes to authorize the faculty attending the conferences on a 5-4 vote.

“Denny’s had a long history with the district,” Stamm said. “He’s always been an asset.”

Artley has served as business manager for 32 years and is also a former coach and transportation coordinator for the school system.

Bachman asked if Campana was permitted to serve as a substitute teacher while serving as mayor. Stamm and Branton said there were no obstacles on the school district’s side and otherwise it was between him and the government of Williamsport.

In other personnel matters, the district approved expanding South Williamsport Area Junior/Senior High School assistant principal Scott Hill’s responsibilities to include Rommelt Elementary School. He will be paid an annual salary of $84,000. The board approved the appointment of Robert Houseknecht as athletic director with an annual stipend of $10,000. The board accepted the appointments of Natasha Marnon as eighth-grade girls basketball coach for a stipend of $2,897 and Leanne Hill as choreographer for the fall drama production for a stipend of $800. The board also approved filling 30 club and extracurricular adviser positions. Stipends range from $1,000 to $210.

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