SIDNEY — The first steps were taken Monday night by the Sidney City Schools Board of Education to place a permanent improvement levy on the March 15, 2016, ballot.
A resolution declaring it necessary for 3-mill levy for a period of five years levy to be placed on the ballot was approved. Four board members — Kelly Rees, Bill Ankney, Darrell Spangler and Bob Smith — approved the resolution. Board member Paul Heins was absent because he is part of the interviewing committee for a new treasurer for Upper Valley Career Center.
The board had discussed the issue during its Oct. 20 meeting and outlined the upcoming needs of each building in the district.
“I agree with the need for a permanent improvement levy,” said Smith. “I just feel there are too many downsides to it being a continuing levy.
“A continuing levy is too hard to pass,” said Rees. “When you ask for a tax, the public will understand a 5-year levy a little bit more. I think we need more than the 2-mill levy because of the amount of what needs to be done at the buildings.”
Superintendent John Scheu and Treasurer Mike Watkins had recommended a 2-mill continuing permanent improvement levy during the October meeting.
“We don’t want to continue to take out of the general fund to put it in the permanent improvement fund,” said Rees. “If we could do with a little more, that wouldn’t hurt.”
Spangler said it’s hard to get a continuing levy approved by the voters.
“We need to show the public how we’ve spent their money,” said Spangler.
Ankney, board president, said “2 mills is on the borderline of not being enough. I’m with you that it should be a five-year deal. The continuing levy path is hard.
“We have to build on the faith (of the voters) and if needed, ask for something different at the end of the five years,” said Ankney.
Watkins told the board that 2 mills is the minimum the board should ask the voters to approve.
“Our expenditures will not cease at that time (end of five year levy),” said Watkins. “We need to address what’s in place now and have carryover to address what’s passed through the five-year levy.”
Watkins told the board there would be three opportunities to pass the levy in 2016 — March, August and November.
“If you look at the scope at what has to be done, a 3-mill levy makes sense,” said Watkins.
“Historically, we’ve done a good job of maintaining our facilities,” said Ankney. “I don’t want to see the buildings go downhill. The people I’ve talked to support the idea (of a PI levy).”
A 3-mill levy would generate approximately $1.3 million a year for the district.
“A 2-mill levy covers known repairs,” said Scheu. “We’re stretching our limits with needs that we know of. It doesn’t take in unexpected events.”
“We have to take care of our facilities,” said Rees. “The kids can’t learn if they’re cold.”
Each of the school buildings in the district is more than 50 years old with the exception of Sidney Middle School, which was built in 2003. Sidney High School was built in 1960 and renovated in 2004. Lowell Elementary School opened in 1950; Sidney Alternative School was built in 1930; Northwood was built in 1957; Emerson, Longfellow and Whittier elementary schools were all built in 1950.
The district’s permanent improvement levy expired in 2009. It was first approved in 1969 and renewed every five years until the board allowed it to expire in 2009 when the district was facing financial difficulties and couldn’t get the levy renewed.
The PI fund saw all its monies exhausted in 2011. In 2012, the district began transferring money from the general fund to the PI fund to continue to care for the buildings in the district.
In 2012, he said, $150,000 was transferred to the general fund. In both 2013 and 2014, $250,000 each year was transferred. In 2015, $450,000 was transferred and in 2016, $350,000 has been transferred. A total of $1,4500,000 has been transferred from the general fund to the PI fund.
During the public participation portion of the meeting, Bill Warner, of Sidney, expressed his support of the proposed PI levy.
“The present health of Sidney City Schools is commendable and shows what can be accomplished when the community works together,” said Warner. “As one with a vested interest in the community and taxes, I wholeheartedly support a permanent improvement levy which is under discussion. It will stretch our operating funds, help everyone take a longer range view in the management of our schools, reflect the pride we have in our school district and above all continue support for our young people. Thanks to all of you who work daily for the district on our behalf.”
At the board’s Nov. 16 meeting, it is anticipated they will approve a resolution determining to proceed and certify the levy with the Shelby County Board of Elections. This action must be taken by Dec. 16, 2015. The board will meet at 6 p.m. at the board of education office.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4822; follow her on Twitter @MelSpeicherSDN. Follow the SDN on Facebook, www.facebook.com/SidneyDailyNews.