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Southmoreland hoping to get state funding

Southmoreland School Board is hoping the Pennsylvania State Senate will return to session to act on House Bill 2733, which would provide some temporary funding to replace nearly $1 million in tax revenue it lost with the closing of Sony in East Huntingdon Township.

The bill was sponsored by state Rep. Ted Harhai.

District Business Manager Bill Porter said Thursday that more than a year ago after finding out Sony would be closing its East Huntingdon facility, he along with Superintendent John Halfhill and other administrators drafted letters that were sent to state officials.

“I thought there was some kind of legislation that might be on the books to help school districts in these type of situations, but I wasn’t sure of the details,” Porter said.

Harhai was the only representative to get back to Porter.

Porter said Harhai found legislation that was designed to provide financial aid to districts which suffered a significant loss in real estate tax when a business closed or moved out.

“But there was a big stumbling block with Southmoreland because we’re the only district in the state who does not get real estate taxes from a major corporation,” Porter said. “Instead, Sony made a payment in lieu of taxes.”

From there Porter contacted the Department of Education to discuss changing the legislation so that Southmoreland could be included. Barbara Nelson from the Department of Public Education said officials worked at crafting new legislation or inclusive verbiage to the current legislation.

The verbiage would allow districts who suffered a huge in-lieu-of-taxes monetary loss to receive up to 100 percent of funding loss for the first year and 50 percent of the funding loss for the second year.

“It would be just a two-year aid package that would get us over the hump so we could transition from the loss,” Porter said.

Harhai, who attended the meeting, said House Bill 2733 was presented to members of the House and was passed with 148 votes in favor and 40 against.

The bill was then sent to the Senate. Harhai said he found out last week that the Senate did not move on the bill.

“All I was asking for was to give Southmoreland School District a little bit of breathing room for two years so you can better manage where you are heading,” he said. “The money wouldn’t come from the general budget. It’s a surplus in the Department of Education set aside specifically for these type of situations.”

Harhai said the House will reconvene on Nov. 8 but said there is a good possibility that the Senate will not reconvene until January, when he hopes members will take action on the bill.

“I’m just very disappointed that the Senate didn’t even bring the bill out of (the education) committee,” Porter said.


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