OAK HARBOR - Officials in the Benton-Carroll-Salem school district breathed a sigh of relief yesterday as Ottawa County's official vote count from the Nov. 7 election confirmed the narrow passage of a 3.9-mill levy.
An unofficial tally on election night showed the two-year operating levy winning by 16 votes, 2,388 to 2,372.
The county board of elections met yesterday to do the official count, including walk-in ballots cast by voters who had recently moved into the county or from one county precinct to another. With an additional 74 votes counted in 19 precincts of the school district, the levy prevailed by 38 votes, 2,436 to 2,398, said JoAnn Friar, elections director.
Ms. Friar said it's rare for a county election to hinge on walk-in votes, which are counted later so elections officials can confirm voters' new addresses and ensure that they didn't vote twice.
“In the five years I've worked here, I don't think there's been a swing to a different result,” she said. Because the margin of victory for the levy is more than 0.5 per cent, “the difference is not small enough to warrant an automatic recount,” Ms. Friar added.
A recount could still be done, however, if a group of at least five people requested a recount within five days of yesterday's certification and agreed to pay $10 per precinct, she said.
Charlie Burns, superintendent of Benton-Carroll-Salem, said the certified victory lifts a burden from the district's staff and students. In August, voters decisively rejected a continuing levy for the same amount, 3.9 mills. The property tax, which will raise about $3 million a year for the schools, ensures that the district will avoid a projected $1 million deficit for the 2001-02 academic year. Passage also spares at least 10 of the system's 254 employees from being laid off.
“This allows us to move forward with planning for the school district,” Mr. Burns said. “It will help us remove our year-end budget deficits and end the practice of deficit spending.”
Benton-Carroll-Salem was once one of Ohio's most prosperous school districts, thanks to revenue from the Davis-Besse nuclear power station, which opened in the late 1970s. But the onset of electricity deregulation, which will allow consumers to choose their own supplier starting in January, is sharply cutting revenue to the schools.
This year FirstEnergy, which owns Davis-Besse, paid $8 million toward personal property taxes; that amount could drop to $2.3 million next year because of deregulation-related tax changes.
The district has saved $1.1 million in a year by allowing employees to leave without replacing them, and Mr. Burns said the schools will continue trying to cut personnel costs through attrition.
“If we have a resignation or retirement, there's a good chance that we may simply not fill that position,” he said.
Mr. Burns said Benton-Carroll-Salem should be able to stay out of the red through 2005 if the district can win renewal of several levies in the next few years.
In 2002, voters will be asked to renew the 3.9 mills approved this month, and a 4.33-mill operating levy last approved in 1998 will be up for renewal. In 2004 a permanent improvement levy renewal will be on the ballot, Mr. Burns said.
“The board has said we need this new revenue, but we're going to have to make cuts in our operating budget, and we'll continue to do that,” he said.