BOE Talks Levy

ST. MARYS — A local board of education heard a presentation on what types of levies could be available to it during a special meeting held Wednesday evening at the District Service Center.

Rebecca Princehorn, with Bricker and Eckler Attorneys at Law, met with members of the St. Marys Board of Education to discuss levy options for the district.

“Kurt felt that I could be helpful to have a customized session for St. Marys,” Princehorn said, noting the session was the result of a meeting during the BASA Conference held in January. “I know you have some decisions to make about which way to go, if you go to the voters. There are some options involved.”

First off, Princehorn noted the election filing deadlines for elections slated from 2012 to 2015.

“More specific to your situation — I think it’s fair to say that you’ve been trying to stick within the framework of renewals as appropriate and trying to be very mindful of what tax cut questions you put out there,” she said.

Princehorn noted the work done the last time a renewal was passed.

“I know there was some analysis down at that time whether to stick with a straight emergency or look something else, and the conclusion after the board reviewed the variables was to stick with an emergency for a variety of reasons,” she said.

Treasurer Tom Sommer noted the property valuations haven’t changed much.

“Part of the challenge for some school districts in Ohio is that they are seeing significant decreases,” Princehorn said, noting one school district who has seen a 15 percent decrease.

Sommer also noted the district is at the 20-mill floor requirement.

“Typically, if you are at the 20-mill floor, then you don’t want to do anything that would take you off the floor because you lose that ability to at least sustain that, and because you don’t have decreasing values ... We can make the assumption you want to stay at the floor, your values are holding true and that’s a good thing,” Princehorn said. “So, then that gets back to within that framework, what do you see happening as you move out, and if you want to stay at the 20-mill floor and you need increase your revenue, your choices kind of center around an emergency levy and some variation on that theme or an income tax.”

Next, Princehorn took board members through a packet that featured sections from the Ohio Revised Code and various samples of how different types of ballots would appear for the different types of levies.

She first featured an emergency property tax levy.

“That would be your basic emergency levy,” Princehorn said. “You see that it’s a dollar-based levy, and so the good news is you get a certain sum of dollars — you’re never going to get more, but it’s a certain sum of dollars.”

She then showed board members the next option — an emergency levy renewal with an increase.

“The good news there is in terms of the hold-harmless concept — to the extent, it’s a renewal, you get to preserve any hold harmless payment you would get as far as that portion is concerned,” she said.

Next, Princehorn noted the substitute levy — a substitute emergency property tax levy substituting for a single emergency levy.

“The idea is this is a growing emergency levy,” she said, noting she believed this type of levy would be for a high-growth district initially. “The thing I think is the hardest part of fitting in the emergency levy basket, I guess, fitting them together, is that what you can’t do is what everybody wants to do, which is a renewal with an increase and take a substitute — that option doesn’t exist.”

Princehorn then moved onto the income tax option, showcasing two other samples — a school district income tax-school district all income option and the school district income tax-earned income only.

“It can be on all income, it can be an earned-income only,” she said. “Once you have an income tax, it’s got to be all one way or all the other.”

Princehorn noted income tax levies differ from the emergency levies because they can be for any number of specified years, whereas emergencies, renewals or substitutes have a maximum of 10 years.

Princehorn then showcased a combined income tax and property tax levy.

“This just became available to school districts with the November election in 2011, and this is a combined income tax and property tax as one ballot question,” she said. “It is a dollar-based levy — it is not subject to the 20-mill floor.”

Princehorn noted that option would be an option because it doesn’t put the “full burden on property owners.”

“I think many districts those kind of options where you don’t put the full burden on the property taxpayer nor are you putting the full burden on those who are younger who are still in the workforce,” she said, also noting an income tax can fluctuate with the economy.

Princehorn noted if a person is a resident of the school district and the school district has an income tax, that person would be subject to the tax.

For example, if a person lived in Celina and worked in St. Marys and St. Marys City Schools had an income tax, that person would not be subject to the school’s income tax.

Board Member Ralph Wiley suggested looking at the combination option.

“My initial thought process is to do some sort of variation of this combination — with the earned income tax,” he said, noting he liked the idea of spreading the funding and that it is not focused on just property owners. “I believe this truly could be the best of both worlds.”

Wiley noted his concern would be with the income tax tie to the economy, but he added the area has done pretty well this year economically.

The next meeting of the St. Marys Board of Education is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. March 14 at the middle school-high school.