WILKES-BARRE — The 2.9 percent property tax increase approved in a preliminary budget by Wilkes-Barre Area School Board Tuesday may be certain to change before a final budget is approved, but the mysterious disappearance of about two-thirds of scaffolding the district bought in 2009 looks like a tougher case to crack.
The budget was the lone item on the agenda, but Board Member Christine Katsock opened with questions about the scaffolding, purchased for about $18,000 after years of rental from Patent Construction. The board had planned to use that scaffolding for protection from potential falling debris at Coughlin High School until Katsock noted at the special meeting that much of it apparently “grew legs and walked away.”
Until about 2010 the scaffolding had been used for similar protective work at Meyers High School. Katsock said district workers disassembled it but could only transport smaller pieces to a district-owned building in Wilkes-Barre Township. Patent offered to transport the larger and heavier frames to the building for free.
There is no record that the pieces were actually received at the building, but that’s only the start of the tracking woes. Katsock said the pieces were stored outside in an area accessible to anyone, and there were no security cameras. Sometime between taking it down and a recent check for the scaffolding, roughly 60 of 88 large frames, at least six feet wide or bigger, disappeared, Katsock said. Some of the ground plates and pins used in assembly also are gone, while aluminum tubing remains.
“I’m going to write to the district attorney and ask for an investigation,” Katsock said. “Obviously, there was a theft.”
Board Member Ned Evans asked if a thorough search of district property had been done to see if any of the scaffolding was moved to another location. Building and Grounds Director John Chiemento said no, and that one would be done. But Katsock said it is unlikely such large pieces would be transported and used unnoticed.
The board voted 8-1 to authorize district construction manager Apollo Inc., to work out a contract to get new scaffolding set up for a cost of about $23,000 from Beth Allen Ladder and Scaffolding in Allentown. Apollo sought quotes and Beth Allen offered the lowest.
The preliminary budget, which Business Manager Leonard Przywara stresses is “guaranteed to change” before final approval by June 30, raises property taxes 2.9 percent, from 15.522 mills to 15.9721 mills. A mill is a $1 tax on every $1,000 of assessed property value. The increase would thus add $45 to the tax bill of a house assessed at $100,000.
Even with the increase Przywara noted the budget would bring in an estimated $104.5 million and spend $108.2 million. Without changes the difference would be made up by dipping into a fund balance currently at about $6 million, Przywara said.
Katsock voted against the budget, saying she disliked the tax increase and “wasteful spending.” James Susek, Denise Thomas and Louis Elmy voted yes but all said they did not like the tax increase and expected it to change by the time a final budget is up for a vote.