SIDNEY — Registered voters in the Sidney City Schools District will vote on a 7.33 mill emergency property tax levy when they go to the polls on Tuesday, March 17. The 10-year property tax levy, if approved, would raise $3.5 million for the district.
The proposed levy is for operating costs for the school district, said Superintendent Bob Humble. Funds from the levy would be placed in the district’s general fund.
A property owner with a house valued at $109,000 would see an increase of $23.32 per month on their property taxes. If approved, the levy would have to be renewed every 10 years.
Humble said the levy is for 10 years so voters don’t get “voter fatigue.”
“The district has had no real additional revenue since 2009,” said Humble. “The state keeps cutting or flat funds for the districts. We took a big hit when the business tangible personal property tax was eliminated.”
Humble said existing tax levies have a rollback and homestead included on them. With new tax levies, the state will no longer allows rollbacks and homestead reductions.
“Historically, new levies were subject to homestead and rollback where the total property tax owed was reduced,” said Sidney City Schools Treasurer Mike Watkins. “Under new legislation passed a couple bienniums ago, only renewal of a levy kept the reduction but a new levy is only eligible for the homestead reduction.
“So for the levy request on the March ballot, should it pass, the 10% Nonbusiness Credit and 2.5% Owner Occupied property has been eliminated. This was basically a cost saving measure for the state of Ohio. For Sidney, on our current levies, we receive about $1.5 million in homestead and rollback payments each year,” he said.
The lack of new revenue sources has led the district to its current financial situation.
“What people need to understand is that the district has had no new money in 11 years,” said Humble. “Our expenses continue to go up, but our revenue hasn’t. And the district can’t continue to operate like that.”
The board of education, said Humble, approved cuts of $1.5 million last year.
“We had $1.2 million cuts in staffing,” said Tiffany Rank, the district’s community director.
The teachers also approved a $300,000 change in their insurance coverage, which was added to the approved cuts.
“The district also went through a restructuring, which provided us with a better use of our staff,” said Humble. “A few staff members left through attrition (retirement), and there were a few cuts. Those changes contributed $1.2 million in cuts for the district.
“The teachers union also agreed to a change in their health care,” Humble continued.
Both Humble and Rank said the lack of new residential housing in the district has hurt the district. Local residents can see expansions at local businesses and companies, but the district isn’t seeing additional funds.
“Tax abatements play a role in the growth of the district,” said Rank. “People see growth through additions (at companies), but the city has agreements for tax abatements.”
The school board, they said, has to agree with the terms of the abatement, which allows for certain property tax exemptions or reductions.
All school districts are required to operate in the “black” on a yearly basis. While there is a carryover balance in the five-year forecast, the district is eating into the balance each year. Spending all the carryover balance isn’t the road the district wants to take.
“If we have to cut $3.5 million from the budget, it will be devastating to the district,” said Humble.
If the levy fails, he said, the district’s programs for the students would have to be re-valuated and additional cuts would have to be made.
“We can’t operate at a deficit,” said Humble. “We’ll have to look at all our options. The board will make the final decision on the programs and people in the district.”
The district’s current operating budget is $26 million.
Operating costs for the district, Humble said, include day-to-day operations of the district, staff salaries, utilities, technology and supplies. Because the district doesn’t have a permanent improvement levy, funds from the general fund are transferred to that fund annually to handle capital improvement projects and maintenance on the district’s buildings.
Co-chairs for the levy committee are Rudy Keister and Josh Ross. Additional information about the levy can be found at https://www.sidneyschoolslevy.org/.
For frequently asked questions about the levy, visit, https://docs.google.com/document/d/1mptucILO3LbALaKAC_n4zvKNBFrCXwr636HglNgmYHg/edit?usp=sharing.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4822.