Galloway school board addresses angry taxpayers

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Madelaine Vitale / Taxpayers filled the Middle School to hear what school officials had to say about the increase in taxes during a school board meeting Monday, Aug. 25. Madelaine Vitale / Taxpayers filled the Middle School to hear what school officials had to say about the increase in taxes during a school board meeting Monday, Aug. 25.

GALLOWAY – Angry taxpayers took their concerns over a 30 percent property tax increase to the school board Monday night, Aug. 25, at the Middle School on Reeds Road.

But after a budget presentation with figures that school officials said showed that the district spends less than others yet maintains solid services, taxpayers who went looking for answers left with as many questions as they had after the council meeting the week before.

Bill Narkiewicz, a Galloway resident whose taxes went from $7,000 to $8,000, told school board members they are “playing a shell game.”

“When I looked at your budget I had a lot of questions,” Narkiewicz, an engineer said. “I run budgets, too. I understand the shell game.”

He asked if he would be able to sit down with school officials and go over the budget.

Superintendent Annette Giaquinto told him he could contact her to arrange a time to meet with her and the school business administrator.

Outside of the meeting, Narkiewicz called the tax increase huge and said something has to change.

“Our taxes just went up 30 percent. That is outrageous,” he said.

Giaquinto and District Business Administrator Tim Kelley went over the school budget and explained the ways they have been “efficient” as a district, including eliminating courtesy busing and hiring part-time workers, resulting in a savings because they do not receive health benefits. They have also reduced teacher staff in areas such as physical education, health, and world language.

“Again, this is just a smattering of things this board and our administrators have done for more budget efficiencies,” Giaquinto said.

Although taxpayers seemed a bit more reserved compared to the raucous council meeting that began and ended with shouting, there were still claps of approval for taxpayers’ comments to the board and scoffs at some official responses. It appeared that the budget presentation and answers from school officials did little to alleviate the burden on some taxpayers.

Nick Conti, a resident of the Four Seasons senior development in Smithville, asked the school board why taxpayers had to fund so many extracurricular activities in the schools. Conti said he is all for students being involved in activities, but not at the expense of the taxpayers. His comments led to applause.

Giaquinto told Conti that there are many areas including technology, that the school must fund, not just reading, writing and arithmetic.

Tony Annacone, vice president of the Four Seasons, told the board, “We are seniors. We expect to pay taxes, but there has to be a point in time when it stops. As people lose their jobs they will move out. What would you do if we moved out?”

Approximately 2,200 people live in the Four Seasons, Annacone said.

“Some are really hurting. We are on a fixed income. There has to be something the school board will do and also the township. We are waiting for the mayor to have a meeting.”

Board of Education President Ernest Huggard told Annacone the board is limited in part by what the state gives in funding. For this budget year, the state gave $4.1 million less and it had to be made up somewhere.

Approximately 61 percent of the tax rate comes from school taxes, 22 percent from municipal taxes, and the remainder comes from the county. The combined tax rate for 2014 is $2.94 per $100 of assessed property value, up from $2.25 last year – about 30 percent higher.

School district officials said Monday night that although the bulk of the tax rate is due to the school taxes, the largest increase came from the municipal side this year.

Giaquinto told the audience, “If you leave with nothing else this evening – yes, our school district makes up 38 percent of your bill; but over the years we have had a 1 percent increase, while still providing quality schools.”

The other part of the 61 percent schools portion is from the Greater Egg Harbor Regional High School District.

Mayor Don Purdy, Deputy Mayor Tony Coppola and Councilman Tim Meadows attended the meeting.

Purdy commented outside of the meeting that school officials were very professional in trying to address the taxpayers' questions.

“Between the township and the school board we have our work cut out for us,” Purdy said.

Purdy said he is still going over where and when the special meeting will be for taxpayers to have the opportunity to meet with the tax assessor, governing body and possibly Vital Communication, the company that did the reassessment of the township properties.

Prior to the meeting members of Liberty and Prosperity, a libertarian group headed by local attorney Seth Grossman, handed out pamphlets to taxpayers entering the school. The handouts read: “Galloway Outrageous Tax Increase! Are you kidding me?” and “It’s time to really cut costs – and not cut the police.”

“We are here because as all taxpayers we have to stick together,” Mark Hutchinson, a member of the group, told The Current.

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