Hampton Inn, Applebee’s on 2014 school tax rolls

By on December 5, 2013

Part of favorable financial forecast for EASD

Good financial news resonated throughout Monday’s Ephrata School Board meeting.

There was a favorable financial audit, word of soaring tax real estate collections, and news of a possible refund of an overpayment to a cyber school.

The district will also realize a business tax revenue boost next year from the new Ephrata Marketplace and the not-so-new Hampton Inn/Applebee’s property.

A no-tax agreement with the hotel property expires Dec. 31, meaning it will be included in the district’s 2014-15 budget.

Constructed in 2005, the businesses on the site &tstr; the four-story, 72-room Hampton Inn & Suites; 7,000 square-foot Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar; and an office building &tstr; are on property declared as a Keystone Opportunity Zone.

The KOZ site was exempt from all state, local and school taxes for a period of time as a means of encouraging development. In October 2002, the EEDC received a $2.6 million dollar grant from then-governor Mark Schweiker to help spur the project along.

“The Keystone Opportunity Zone will generate about $105,000 at current tax levels,” said Kristee Reichard, district business manager.

Reichard also noted that the district had an unexpected increase in uncollected taxes, and an audit by Herbein + Company Inc. on Monday gave the district an excellent review.

The report notes that the district as of June 30 has a $33.88 million investment fund, including a $29.3 million Pennsylvania School District Liquid Asset Fund.

The positive financial news prompted hints on how the board’s 2014-15 budget may look.

Tim Stayer, reappointed Monday as school board president, suggested that the board immediately consider “opting out” of the state-mandated maximum tax hike of 2.6 percent for the district.

“This may a be a little premature to consider, but based on how good the (audit) is and how our fund balances are, might we even consider a low or zero tax increase next year?” Stayer asked the board at Monday’s school board meeting.

The district also learned that it will likely recoup some overpayments made to Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School.

The board agreed to join a class action suit against the company for about $59,000 in payments made to the school for ineligible kindergarten students.

The class action suit, filed by Albert Gallatin Area School District, would be for payments made for “ineligible 4-year-olds since our program only starts at 5 years old,” Reichard said.

Ephrata had paid for the students from the 2007-08 school year until a court in November 2011 ruled cyber charter schools cannot collect for students under the age of 5 if the home school district does not offer a 4-year-old kindergarten program.

“What we receive is unknown, but based on court fees, lawyer fees, etc… it will be less than $59,325 that we have already paid,” Reichard said. “It would be a nice even if we get half of that back.”

The district is still waiting for Lancaster County to release an assessment on the new Giant property and other businesses in the Ephrata Commons to determine what new real estate taxes are generated from the property at 850 E. Main St., Reichard said.

In other news, the board agreed to establish a debt service fund that will separate operating funds from bond payment funds.

•It is considering a contract with Pennsylvania School Board Association to consult and review on each section of the district’s policies.

The $4,900 contract would begin in January if approved at the board’s Dec. 16 meeting at Akron Elementary School.

•The board will also vote to expand Ephrata High School’s job shadowing program. The course would add on-line work and earn students the standard half-credit per semester instead of the current one-quarter credit yield to students who complete the course.

•It is also expected to vote to establish a student activity club that teaches Ephrata Middle School students how to knit and crochet.

•Besides Stayer’s reappointment as president for 2014, the board voted unanimously to appoint Jen Miller as vice president during the board’s re-organization meeting.

All board members were reappointed to the previous committees they served on in 2013.

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