COMMENTARY: The need for a levy
By William Mullett
Our board of education has approved to place a levy on the November ballot to increase our current half-percent income tax to 1 percent.
While levies have become, regrettably, an all too common aspect of public education in Ohio, Jefferson Local Schools has not placed a new operating levy, asking for an increase on the ballot, for 20 years. While we are justifiably proud of that record, we understand that this request will still be a sacrifice for our community. We are asking for its support, to continue to fund our current operations and offer our students and community what we believe is a good value and quality education.
How have we been able to stay off the ballot for new operating dollars for two decades? I will explain. First, however, let me reiterate as I have done in the past that this is not to say that taxes in those 20 years have not increased. In 2003, we passed a bond issue for new facilities for our entire K-12 buildings. That was the first new construction in the district in over 40 years. At the time of the bond issue we rolled off of the tax bill a three mill permanent improvement levy that helped fund our operations, thus actually decreasing our operational dollars.
However, we are very proud of our new facilities and we are appreciative of the community for the support of that new money 10 years ago.
As well, in the process of reappraisal when properties were reassessed, until the last reappraisal, when values were flat, we saw increases that helped our operations. But we have been able to make our two operating levies, the half-percent income tax and the 9.5-mill emergency levy, support our programs for the past 20 years.
The addition of the business park with new monies coming in from businesses like Target helped a great deal. The decision of the board to allow open enrollment has been a huge financial gain for the district bringing in currently more than a half million dollars a year. We believe we have been good stewards of tax dollars by operating prudently and offering services that fit the needs of students, that our community will support.
However, recent events in the economy, and more pointedly in state legislation, have conspired to present financial challenges that will require us to seek new funds from our community.
Just a few of the major hits we have taken include:
The loss of stimulus and stabilization money in the 2012-2011 school year was $527,000 and $560,000 respectively. The loss of the Educational Jobs Grant in FY12 was another $239,000.
A huge loss for us and most school districts was the State’s elimination of the tangible personal property tax which was a 57 percent reduction. This resulted in a $194,287 loss last year, another $143,703 loss this year and beyond.
Our ability to earn interest money when we used to be able to garner around 2.5 percent, now it is less than half-percent, has cost us more than $1,800,000 in a five-year period.
We voluntarily changed our income tax to an earned income only, meaning that all retirements and savings accounts, etc. would not be taxed.
This is how our proposed levy will be as well. This cost us about $90,000 per year. The economic downturn affected the collection of about $100,000 per year loss in our current income tax over the last few years. As well, the expiration of our tax abatement agreements with Jefferson Industries and Target will expire Dec. 31, 2013 and Dec. 31, 2014 respectively, cost us a total of $320,000 per year which had been an important part of our budget for a 10 year period.
All of these losses have come at a time when we have essentially received no new money from the State. From FY ’05 to FY ’13, a nine year period, we have been flat funded including a projection in the new biennium of a 0 percent increase the next two years.
The unfunded mandates from the State have continued to accrue and certainly the requirements of the new third grade reading guarantee and the new evaluation system for next year are prime examples of legislative changes in requirements with no accompanying funds to support them.
We have recognized our financial plight and about a year and a half ago cut more than $800,000 from our budget. These were painful cuts that saw the elimination of staff and programs. We have aggressively implemented cost savings and cost avoidance programs that have saved more than $650,000 to date.
These include a new efficient heating and cooling project, new outdoor lighting project, the installation of solar panels at the high school/middle school complex, changing vendors and purchase of a van to reduce busing costs. We have also been able to refinance our bonds at a huge tax savings to our community of $2,439,384 over the life of the bond replacement schedule.
However, in spite of these cuts and savings we have not been able to weather the storm of the serious financial cuts to our local school system. Like many schools, villages, townships and police and fire departments across the state, we must appeal to our local community to continue to support the operation of our schools. To that end we are asking our community for their understanding and support.
William Mullett is superintendent of the Jefferson Local School District.