Spring-Ford Area School District Solicitor Marc Davis opened with some disheartening news at Tuesday night's school board meeting. Davis reported that after an afternoon meeting between district officials and SEI Investments Company (Oaks), it was determined the two entities are "very very far apart" in negotiations for the pending property assessment.
Davis said there is a major assessment appeal on the table - the largest outstanding appeal of significance. Spring-Ford recently settled with GlaxoSmithKline after years of negotiations - sometimes harsh, sometimes cordial.
Further, Davis explained Spring-Ford could owe $2.2 million to the government and the loss to the district would be $300 - $400 thousand in tax reductions going forward.
"Certainly, it’s a good thing to meet," said Davis. "The meeting was cordial. I would’ve thought that they would have compromised. I didn’t expect we’d resolve it this morning in a 45-minute meeting, but I'm disappointed to find out how far apart we are."
The matter is scheduled for trial in Montgomery County for July 19. Davis reported all parties agreed that date would need a modification as certain witnesses will not be available at that time, but the case should be tried by the end of the summer.
Board President Tom DiBello said appraisals were performed by two independent companies and both found values within "a couple hundred thousand within each other." SEI's appraisal, DiBello said, was a lot lower. DiBello could not release preliminary numbers at this time.
"The district is faced with some very very tough tough decisions and concerns," said DiBello. "Our revenue is 85 percent budgeted through real estate taxes. It's not that we like to raise taxes. We've been pretty successful this year of keeping it down under two percent. This type of hit to the district will have very unfortunate outcomes."
Davis noted the tax years that are an issue are 2009 through 2012 and that SEI has already made a "significant reduction" for the district.
Board Vice President Joe Ciresi said the two sides had an "interesting conversation" on the public's perception of SEI, as opposed to GSK.
"All of us in room found interesting, nobody really said anything about SEI, it was GSK," Ciresi said. "The board hasn’t gone hard at them. Now it’s time to start playing pressure on them. It's time to let them know how we feel about what we’re about to lose and what we stand to lose."
Ciresi continued by saying the district has looked at "tens of millions of dollars" in losses, subsequently raising taxes to the local residents.
"We've been lucky to not have to cut music, arts, sports," Ciresi said. "Tredyffrin has cut as much as they can to cut losses in the budget. Taking these huge hits is going to make it more difficult for us."
The board encouraged the public to let SEI know of its concerns, as that helped the district in the GSK case.
The board gave the following address for the Oaks office and to address all concerns to Chief Executive Officer Alfred P. West Jr.
1 Freedom Valley Drive
Oaks, PA 19456
DiBello brought up the fact that the Pottstown Mercury recently released an article about school surpluses and how the district does not use them. Patch also from a report by the Pennsylvania Independent. DiBello refuted this idea.
"We do have a reserve cash fund right now," he explained. "We currently have somewhere around $15 million in reserve. As the article mentioned today, school districts have millions sitting around they refuse to spend. Again, I’m not going to speak for other districts, from Spring-Ford's standpoint, we transferred some out of resrve to reduce the burden on the tax community. We have prepaid expenses to be paid in June. We have funds required by Blue Cross self-funded insurance. There's special ed[ucation] money set aside. Appeasers are set aside. Carryover funds cover shortfall on situations that may occur in the district."
DiBello concluded saying a large portion of the reserves were set aside for payments to GlaxoSmithKline.
"We don’t have $15 million sitting around saying 'Boy let’s not spend that,'" DiBello said. "Over the next two years that is allocated one way or another. I wish that before some articles are written that they would actually contact the district office instead of sending the public in a frenzy for whatever reasons. It’s extremely important information for the community to know. This information is available. We have to figure out where money is going to come from. We don’t have money laying around. We are getting contacted by public when they’ve read and seen these articles."