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The Daily



07-24-03: Two new levies likely

St. Marys school  board preparing to put issues on ballot

The Daily Standard

    ST. MARYS - St. Marys school district voters may be faced with two new levies when they head to the polls in November.
    Board members at a special Wednesday night meeting agreed to put in front of voters a 1 percent income tax levy for operating cost and a 6.97-mill property tax levy for a future building project. The building levy would be deferred until 2006.
    The income tax would raise an estimated $2.1 to $2.3 million per year in operating money, which would help offset a projected $108,562 deficit in the 2005 budget that could climb to a $4.06 million deficit in 2007. School officials have said the deficit is due to state cuts in funding.
    The property tax would raise $1.6 million annually toward the school's $60 million school construction project. The school district would pick up $27 million of the total construction cost, with the Ohio School Facilities Commission (OSFC) covering the other $33 million. The OSFC has agreed to pay for the majority of the construction costs, as long as the school follows the state's building guidelines.
    Board members last week discussed delaying the building levy so they could focus on getting more operating money to offset the deficit. But board members on Wednesday night said they rethought the issue and feared losing the $33 million in OSFC funding if they didn't try to get the building levy passed. They also said they wanted to take advantage of the low interest rates due to the economy.
    "Interest rates are at a 40-year low," Business Manager Kurt Kuffner said. "We need to take advantage of construction costs because people are looking for work."
    Superintendent Paul Blaine added that construction costs would only increase as the economy grew stronger. Waiting on the building levy also could cause the school to lose millions in funding as the OSFC makes changes, he said.
    Blaine said passage of both levies would eliminate the need for any new levies for at least five years.
    The 6.97-mill bond levy would include 2.87 new mills plus an extension of the 4.1-mill levy passed in 1998 for renovations to East and West elementary schools. It would cost taxpayers an extra $100 per year, based on a $100,000 home.
    Based on a $24,084 annual wage with one exemption, the income tax levy would cost a taxpayer $209 per year.
    Board members said they chose to go with an income tax for operating cost rather than a property tax to balance the tax burden.
    "Most people are saying income tax is a fairer tax," board member Grady Shaner said. "Farmers say that schools are built on farmer's backs because of the reliance on property taxes."
    The ordinance passed by board members Wednesday does not put the levy on the ballot, Blaine said. It sends the levy proposal to county Auditor Karyn Schumann for certification. After being returned from Schumann, the board then must vote to put both levies on the November ballot.


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