Sidney City Schools BOE considers tax levy for district

Final decision to be made at Oct. 21 meeting

By Melanie Speicher -

SIDNEY — Members of the Sidney City Schools Board of Education discussed the financial needs of the district — which includes placing a levy on the March ballot — during a special meeting Tuesday night.

Treasurer Mike Watkins presented the board three versions of the five-year financial forecast. The first is for the forecast for fiscal years 2019 through 2023; the second is for fiscal years 2020 through 2024; and the third is for fiscal years 2020 to 2024, which includes the passage of a levy for new revenues for the district.

Watkins said in fiscal year 2023, the district will have a negative carryover balance of $11,021,500, which is not allowed by the state. This forecast was from May 2019.

The general fund for the 2019-20 school year, said Watkins, has been reduced by $1,57,888 through staffing changes, which includes attrition, moving Sidney Alternative School to the high school and not replacing staff members who left or retired.

Those positions include an administrator at the board office, custodian position of eight hours, high school science, math and English teachers, SAS secretary, eight aides from SAS closing, a principal, Sidney High School Workforce Academy staff person, secretary at the board office, elementary school teacher, high school alternative classroom teacher, preschool aide, library aide and elementary aide.

“The reduction of general fund money from the cuts will continue from year to year,” said Watkins.

With the cuts, the five-year forecast in September 2019 shows a negative carryover balance in 2023 of $639,762 and in 2024 a negative balance of $9,869,521.

Watkins said the district has no new revenue to offset the negative balance. The money from the state is predicted to remain around $20 million, which includes $933,000 from 2021 through 2024 for the Student Wellness Aid which is included in the current two-year state budget.

“That’s only guaranteed for two years, but I feel confident in including it for the next two years,” said Watkins. “This is Gov. (Mike) DeWine’s baby and I can’t see him dropping it.”

The third forecast, said Watkins includes new money from a local tax levy if it is approved in March 2020. If the 10-year 7.3 mill emergency levy is approved, that would bring $3,500,000 of new money to the general fund. That influx of money would bring the carryover balance in 2023 to just over $8 million and in 2024 a carryover balance of just over $2 million.

Watkins said the district has three opportunities to pass the levy in 2020 — March, August and November — for collections to begin in January 2021.

“This dosn’t solve the problem,” said Watkins. “We need to find new revenue for the district. We haven’t asked for any new money in 10 years.

“We’ll take every dollar we can get from the state, but we have no growth here from property taxes,” he said. “There are significant things happening in the district but they have all been abatemented out.

“We still have work we need to do to continue to address staffing as opportunities address themselves,” he said. “We’ve created ranges for the administrative staff. We need to look at the other staff salaries. Our pace is going too fast and we need to find a way to slow it down.”

Board member Jason Schaffner asked what would happen if the levy doesn’t pass.

“We’ll have to come back with a levy with more millage,” said Watkins. “We need a certain amount of dollars to educate our students. If it doesn’t pass, we’ll have to ask for additional millage.”

Schaffner questioned whether an income tax levy would be better than a property tax.

“We don’t have an income tax,” said Watkins. “We tried that a couple of times and the voters said no.

“I’d love to have an income tax, but it takes 1 1/2 years to see the full collection for it,” said Watkins. “I don’t think we can collect it fast enough to get the revenue we need to help the situation.”

“It’s going to be tough,” said Schaffner, who expressed his feelings that a property tax wouldn’t pass.

“You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do,” he said. “If you don’t like 1/2 percent income tax, it’s better than the 1 percent (that didn’t pass). Three years down the road you could ask for another quarter percent tax. The 7.3 mills you’re talking about is not a long term fix.”

“We have to find a way to stay operating until we can find that long term fix,” said Board President Bob Smith.

“There are a lot of renters in Sidney and the property owners will pass the tax increase onto them,” said Schaffner.

“The income tax punishes the lower wage earners,” said Smith.

In 2013, the district placed a 1 percent income tax on the August ballot. It failed 48 to 52 percent. In November 2013, it failed 46 percent to 54 percent.

In 2016, the board placed a permanent improvement levy on the ballot. It failed three times that year at the polls.

In November 2019, the renewal of an emergency levy was approved. It first went on the ballot in November 2009, where it was approved, and was renewed for the first time in November 2014.

“Doing nothing is not an option,” said Smith.

Watkins said he would look at the income tax and see how much it could generate. He will also see if one levy could combine both options — income tax and property tax — or placing both tax issues on the same ballot.

“The community is already split on tax issues,” said Smith. “I think you’ll see the support go down if we put two of them on the ballot.”

Superintendent Bob Humble said farmers will usually vote no on property taxes and vote yes on income taxes.

“If we put them both on the ballot, I think we’ll be splitting the yes votes and it will drop below the no votes. Some people will say yes to both. A combination — 1/2 percent income tax and lower tax millage — will only delay the problem. I don’t like putting two on the ballot and splitting the yes votes,” said Smith.

“But some money is better than nothing,” Schaffner replied.

“We have to get new money or we have to start cutting,” said Smith.

“You’re not going to get this millage (passed),” said Schaffner.

“We have to swing for the fences with one levy,” said Smith.

“But two bats swinging are better than one,” said Schaffner.

Humble said there’s one advantage to the March elections — it’s the presidential primary and the Democrats will be coming out to vote.

“That’s more favorable for levies,” said Humble. “I think we’ll get most parents out to vote. The Democratic base will be coming out to vote.”

“My goal is to educate the students,” said Smith.

“I don’t think we can pass two levies,” said board member Linda Meininger.

“We have to settle on which one we want to pass,” said Humble. “If you bounce back and forth between the two, that’s all you’ll be doing.”

Schaffner said all the area school districts have an income tax levy on the books. Sidney City Schools is the only district that doesn’t have an income tax levy.

“I just want to buy ourselves some time to come out with a long term plan,” said Smith.

If the 7.3 mill levy is passed, said Smith, then the district could supplement that with a future income tax.

Though no formal vote was taken on the tax issue, each board member agreed new tax money is needed for the district.

“I can’t say no,” said Schaffner. “You got to do what you’ve got to do.”

The first resolution for placing the issue on the March ballot will be introduced at the October board meeting. The deadline for file for the March election is Dec. 6.

“We have to have our contingencies in place if it fails,” said Humble. “If it fails, we will have a first round of cuts. I feel we’ll have to do something before the start of the next school year, so we’ll have the March and August elections to get it passed.

“After the November election, we’d have a second round of cuts,” Humble said, if the levy deson’t get passed.

“We swinging for the fence while being blindfolded,” said Smith.

Final decision to be made at Oct. 21 meeting

By Melanie Speicher

Reach the writer at 937-538-4822.

Reach the writer at 937-538-4822.