Canon-Mac approves tax assessment settlement with casino; no details released

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CANONSBURG – Canon-McMillan School Board on Monday approved a settlement with The Meadows Casino over its tax assessment appeal, but did not release any details of the deal.


The vote was 6-2, with board members Manuel Pihakis and Eric Kline opposing the settlement. President Darla Bowman-Monaco, Vice President Paul Scarmazzi and members Michael Caporizzo, Zeffie Carroll, Maureen Helinski and Joseph Zupancic voted to approve the settlement. Zupancic prefaced his vote of approval by commenting that the board should “make the best out of a terrible situation.”


“The settlement really offends the conscience for me, personally, that we’re being asked to do this,” he said. “However, I’m very convinced that if the board does not go forward and approve this tonight, then we’re not going to have the wherewithal to stick it out and mitigate this all the way through.”


Bowman-Monaco said a joint announcement with The Meadows Casino will be made at an unspecified date. Debbie Bardella, Washington County director of tax revenue, said that the mediator handling negotiations instructed the parties not to discuss the details until all have signed off on the agreement.


Neither North Strabane Township nor the county has yet approved the settlement.


At a supervisors’ meeting in North Strabane Tuesday night, solicitor James Jeffries said he will be reviewing terms of the settlement. He said the township is minimally involved in the deal.


Bardella said tax assessment officials are still checking calculations and she was not sure if the county commissioners would act on the settlement at their meeting Thursday.


The Meadows is the school district’s single largest taxpayer. In 2009, the then-owner appealed the $19.9 million tax assessment, and sought an assessment of $10 million. The property is now owned by Cannery Casino Resorts. The casino has been paying taxes under the original assessment while the appeal was pending, Bardella said.


It remained unclear whether the school district would have to refund any tax payments to The Meadows.


Although the district’s business manager said at a meeting last week that she was unable to project a budget for the 2013-14 school year because of pending legal matters, the board on Monday unanimously approved a $65.9 million budget for the 2013-14 school year with no tax increase.


The district will use $1.3 million of its fund balance to meet the expenses called for in the spending plan.


“This will be the second time in three years this board has voted for no tax increase whatsoever, and I think that it is to the credit of the administration and the hard work that they do,” said Zupancic.


Last year, the school district adopted a $62.2 million budget with a 1.59-mill tax increase.


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