Residents question tax increase

HOWLAND – The Howland Board of Education’s recent decision to separate from Ashtabula Tech and join the Trumbull Career and Technical Center has some residents concerned about paying an additional tax.

The board’s proposal includes a separation from the district’s contract with A-Tech as well as a motion of application to TCTC.

While the district would save around $400,000 per year – Howland’s fee to A-Tech – school district residents would automatically have to pay the TCTC’s 10-year, 2.4-mill levy. Although the levy will be up for renewal this year, Howland wouldn’t officially join TCTC until 2015 and, as such, its taxpayers would not be able to vote on the countywide tax.

However, the levy currently in place will be collected from Howland residents through 2015, and if the rest of the county approves the renewal this year, Howland residents must pay it through 2025, if the district joins TCTC.

“I’m incensed,” longtime Howland resident and retired Weathersfield teacher Pamela Plesca said. ”I think this is absolutely ridiculous. According to what they were paying, $400,000 to go to A-Tech, but when we’re looking at TCTC we’re paying $1.5 million? So where’s the savings for the people of Howland?”

Trumbull County Deputy Auditor Christy Sosteric said the owner of a $100,000 home in Howland will pay roughly $76 more per year. The effective rate for the levy currently is 2.16 mills, she said.

Plesca also questioned the timing of the board’s decision.

“I pretty much think it was a done deal, and I think it was a done deal back in June of last year.”

If Howland had joined TCTC last year, its property owners would have a chance to vote on this year’s renewal levy. Howland began exploring the TCTC option more than six years ago.

Superintendent John Sheets said the recent decision is due to the district’s financial situation. In order to be released from their contract with A-Tech, the district must be in verified fiscal distress, he said.

“There’s nothing sneaky about this. It’s something we’ve been talking about and there are three entities that have to cooperate on this, and we believe it’s what’s best for the kids,” he said.

The application for TCTC will not be considered until the separation from A-Tech is complete, said TCTC Superintendent Jason Gray.

Jack Canzanetta, a retired Howland resident, also expressed concern over the tax increase.

“How do you justify charging the taxpayers $1 million for saving $400,000? There’s got to be a better way of doing it,” he said.

Sheets said he isn’t asking Howland homeowners to pay any more than taxpayers in any other Trumbull County district already pay for students to attend TCTC.

“This is part of our plan to come out of fiscal distress as a district, that’s one aspect. The second aspect is that we believe that it’s what’s best for our students in preparing them for local career choices and jobs,” he said, adding that it also is becoming more costly for students to attend vocational schools.

Gray said although TCTC would be bringing in additional revenue from Howland, additional students will bring additional expenses. He said the school spends about $12,000 per student.

“To run these programs, the equipment is very expensive. You’re talking $100,000 sometimes for a piece of equipment,” he said, adding that additional teachers are another expense.

Plesca said the move to TCTC is a huge cost that will benefit very few students.

“We’re worried about a handful of kids going to TCTC and we’re willing to ruin the community of Howland?” she asked. Plesca said she is on a fixed income and already pays $1,335 per half in taxes to Howland Schools. “It is killing people who have lived here all their life and now are forced to pay this (large tax),” she said.

Sheets said by joining TCTC, a much closer location than A-Tech, more students will have the opportunity to pursue vocational opportunities. He said if the move to TCTC is successful, he anticipates the number of Howland students – currently around 50 students per class – to double.

Gray agrees.

“I would expect and hope that a lot more than 50 students will take advantage of TCTC. We’re an award-winning technical center right in their back yard. I would expect that number to grow,” he said, adding that the school already has 10 or 11 students from Howland “going out of their way” to attend the school.

Canzanetta said he isn’t “against” the schools, but believes they should look out for the taxpayers’ interest.

“You can always spend more money. It would be nice if my neighbor would put a pool in for me. That’s the way they think of it. It’s always nice if someone else is picking up the tab,” he said.

Plesca said the school board’s decision is going to hurt more students than it will help.

“Here’s the bottom line: they’ll never pass a levy for the school after this,” she said.

BOE President Warner Bacak has said he believes the move is for the good of the district.

“I think some people have known it’s coming, but it’s not an easy thing for people to pay more money in taxes. But I think if they see what we’re doing … I hope they understand,” he said.