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Voters weigh tax levies on March 6 ballot

Marietta, Wolf Creek districts putting decisions in hands of voters

January 21, 2012
By Evan Bevins ( , The Marietta Times

Residents of the Marietta City and Wolf Creek Local school districts are weighing whether to renew a trio of tax levies on the March 6 ballot.

The Marietta City school district is seeking to extend a 7.75-mill operating levy for another five years, along with a 2.69-mill permanent improvement levy. Together, they generate more than $5 million a year for the district.

In Wolf Creek, voters will decide whether to extend for five years a 5.76-mill emergency levy that brings in nearly $782,000 a year.

All three levies were originally passed at higher rates but their effective millage has been reduced as property values have increased. Both districts' administrations and school boards decided to ask for the same amount of money as they have been receiving.

And officials from both districts agree there could be significant changes in store if the levies are not renewed.


Fact Box

Important dates

Jan. 31 - Early voting begins in the Washington County Board of Elections office on the first floor of the courthouse.

Feb. 6 - Last day to register to vote in the March 6 election; board office will be open until 9 p.m.

Feb. 20 -Presidents' Day, but the board office will be open for early voting.

Feb. 25 - Board of elections office will be open until noon for early voting.

March 2 - Last chance to vote early in the office; open until 6 p.m.

March 3 - Office accepting absentee mail-in applications until noon.

March 6 - Election Day; polls open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Source: Washington County Board of Elections.

School levies on the March 6 ballot

Marietta City Schools

Operating levy (renewal)

Effective rate: 7.75 mills.

Duration: Five years.

Raises: $3,842,394.34 a year.

Use: Current expenses, including salaries, benefits, supplies and utility bills.

Annual cost to the owner of a home valued at $100,000: $237.34.

Permanent improvement levy (renewal)

Effective rate: 2.69 mills.

Duration: Five years.

Raises: $1,198,437.52 a year.

Use: Items that last longer than five years, including books, buses and building improvements.

Annual cost to the owner of a home valued at $100,000: $82.38.

Wolf Creek Local Schools

Emergency levy (renewal)

Effective rate: 5.76 mills.

Duration: Five years.

Raises: $781,927 a year.

Use: Operating expenses.

Annual cost to the owner of a home valued at $100,000: $176.40.

Source: Times research.

The operating levy collects more than $3.8 million a year that can be used for day-to-day operations, from salaries and benefits to supplies and utility bills.

Without it, the district, which is already in deficit spending, would have negative fund balances starting in fiscal year 2014, according to its most recent five-year forecast. Renewal of the levy keeps the district in the black until fiscal year 2016, although there's even more uncertainty than usual in the financial forecasts these days with a new school funding formula yet to be established.

"We couldn't possibly maintain all of the programs we have with the loss of that money," said Harry Fleming, Marietta's interim superintendent.

Fleming said he and the board of education have not talked about specific cuts that would be made.

"We would have to look at a lot of things," he said. "You really can't take anything off the table."

The ballot will actually make reference to the previous operating levy rate of 8.5 mills but county Auditor Bill McFarland said that is the maximum that could be assessed if property values took a sharp dive and the effective residential rate of 7.75 mills wasn't delivering the amount projected.

The permanent improvement levy funds have been used in recent years for a variety of repairs at all six of the district's schools, including total roof replacements at the high school and Putnam and Washington elementaries, plus partial roof repairs at the middle school and Harmar Elementary. New security systems and cameras have been installed at the high school, middle school, Phillips and Washington, with plans to install new systems at Harmar and Putnam in February. Boilers have been replaced, parking lots and tracks were resurfaced and the new playground at Phillips was paid for largely through permanent improvement money.

If that nearly $1.2 million a year went away, "we couldn't possibly continue to make those kind of improvements," Fleming said.

The money, which by law can only be used for items that will last longer than five years or more and not salaries, is also intended for new textbooks, buses and computers.

A PowerPoint presentation of how the money has been used, including before-and-after photographs, is being assembled and will be shared with community organizations as district officials discuss the levy with them.

In addition, board of education Vice President Wendy Myers said she is reaching out to people to form a levy committee similar to, but on a bit smaller scale than, the one that helped the district pass a 6.21-mill operating levy last year.

Reno resident Shirley Paugh, 63, said she's likely to support the levy but she believes the school district hasn't always managed its money well over the years.

"I'm not against the taxes ... but I want to know my tax money's being used to the full ability that it can be used," she said.

If either of the levies is rejected, one option could be to put them back before voters in August or November, Fleming said, but that has not been discussed in detail.

Wolf Creek

Although the funding the district receives from the state is diminishing, Wolf Creek Superintendent Bob Caldwell said the administration and board did not want to ask for more money from residents.

"We believe that getting a renewal, and if we continue to be thrifty in our spending, that we'll be able to make this emergency levy work for the five years and continue to improve for our students," he said.

One goal the district has for the nearly $782,000 a year generated by the levy is to set some of it aside for anticipated building repairs in the future. That process has already started, with $300,000 placed in a permanent improvement fund.

"We believe that we need to double that amount over the next five years in preparation for our roof" at the high school and elementary school, Caldwell said.

The district is also identifying and preparing for other improvements down the line.

"Some of these, because of our (buildings' age), need a little bit more than TLC," Caldwell said.

Like their counterparts in Marietta, Wolf Creek's board and administrators have not identified a list of potential cuts should the levy be rejected.

"The board has opted to wait and see what happens in March, because we're optimistic that we can convince our residents that it's needed," he said.

If it did fail, "I honestly believe everything would be on the table," Caldwell said. "Class sizes certainly would not be able to remain the same size to which we've grown accustomed."

Putting the levy on the ballot again could also be an option.

A number of residents said they're still making up their minds about how they will vote.

Mary Armstrong, 36, of Palmer Township, said she's likely to support the levy because she has two children attending Wolf Creek schools and she's satisfied with the district's performance.

Waterford resident Janice L. Davis, 61, said she's hesitant because of the area's continuing economic troubles.

"People are having such a hard time just living from week to week," she said. "It's kind of like robbing Peter to pay Paul when it comes to daily living."

Waterford High School senior Chris Beaver, who will be voting for the first time in March, said he hasn't decided one way or the other yet. The 18-year-old said he plans to pay attention to what's going on in the weeks ahead to make sure the district's leaders will "do whatever they need to help the school out and not blow (the money) basically."

Caldwell said the district has planned a trio of informational sessions on the levy for 5:30 p.m. in the Waterford Elementary School library on Jan. 31, Feb. 9 and Feb. 23. A couple of mailings are also being prepared.



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