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Published: Wednesday, 8/29/2007

5.9-mill levy for Oregon schools put on fall ballot

BY ERIKA RAY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Even though the Oregon school board has saved more than $2 million through reductions and other methods going into this school year, members still want voters to approve a new tax in November to fund operating expenses.

Last week the board voted unanimously to place a 5.9-mill continuing operating levy on the Nov. 6 ballot.

The levy would fund any operational costs the district incurs, including teachers' salaries, textbooks, technology, transportation, and utilities.

"This levy is necessary to continue the operations of our school district," school board President Ray Walendzak said.

The district expects savings from numerous reductions made before the 2007-08 school year. Some of the bigger cuts and the savings include:

• Certified and classified staffing, $1,075,385.

• Changing insurance carriers, $227,109.

• Extended time, $102,520.

Because the district's staff agreed to forgo pay raises this year, the district will save more than $765,000, assuming staff members receive a 3 percent raise on their base salary.

The last time the district put a funding request on the ballot was in November, 2004, when voters approved a 4.4-mill, $45 million bond issue to rebuild an elementary school building and renovate or build additions at the district's other schools.

But none of the bond funding can be used for operations because the bond issue and the requested operating levy are earmarked for specific purposes, Superintendent John Hall said.

"We cannot use those bond dollars for anything other than what that bond issue was for, which is to renovate and add to our buildings," he said.

The district needs operating dollars because it faces significant cuts in revenue as a result of Ohio House Bill 66, Mr. Walendzak said.

The bill reduces tax abatement agreements by one-fourth over the next few years.

But a bigger hit will come from the bill's gradual elimination of "tangible personal property taxes" on machinery and equipment, inventory, and furniture and fixtures belonging to area business. A large portion of the district's tax base is made up of industrial businesses.

"We also need to let our public know that we will have a drastic loss of revenue through the phase-out of personal tangible taxes," Mr. Walendzak said.

If passed, the levy will provide more than $3.7 million in its first year.

An owner of a $100,000 home would pay $181 annually under the new tax if it is approved.

Co-chairmen of the levy's campaign were to hold their first formal meeting this week to discuss strategy for rallying support for the levy.

"My point for the general community [is] none of us want to pay more money, but we have to prioritize what's important," campaign co-chairman Cindy Bench of Jerusalem Township said. "I think, as a community, our schools have to be right up there at the top."

The last time the district asked voters for new money for a continuing period was in November, 2003. The measure, also a 5.9-mill continuous operating levy, passed narrowly.



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