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Published: Thursday, 4/15/2004

Lake Local decision on levy likely tonight

The Lake Local Board of Education likely will decide tonight how large of a levy to request to put on the Aug. 3 ballot, after asking district administrators last night to determine how much revenue each of several proposals would generate.

Discussion during last night's special workshop session primarily considered Treasurer Nancy Heckman's recommendation of a three-year, $2.5 million emergency levy, which would equate to just shy of 11 mills at current property valuations.

But as the meeting wound down, board member Ted Hubler said a levy under 10 mills also should be evaluated, if only "to show that we looked." The board agreed that along with a 9.75-mill proposal, Ms. Heckman should ask Wood County officials to estimate what 10.75 mills and 11.75 mills would bring in.

The board's goal is to stem a growing deficit in the district's budget that, if not addressed with tax increases or spending cuts, would put the Lake Local School District a projected $847,000 in the red by the end of the 2004-2005 school year, and more than $10 million down by mid-2008 - except that state law doesn't allow school districts to spend their way into debt.

"I think an 'emergency levy' sends the right message," school Superintendent Paul Orshoski said. "It is an emergency."

The school board is scheduled to reconvene at 6 tonight at the Millbury Elementary School.

Under state law, an emergency levy is established to collect a set amount of funds for each of its years, and then the county auditor annually establishes a tax rate necessary to produce that amount of revenue. Among the allowable purposes for such a levy is to "avoid an operating deficit."

While an emergency levy may have a term of up to five years, Ms. Heckman said three years should be long enough for the state of Ohio to resolve an on-going school funding debate, centered on the use of local property taxes as the primary revenue source. At that point, she said, the district could develop a new levy scheme that would be adapted to whatever solution the state reaches.

Board member Tim DeLong said the key to passing any levy will be showing voters how insurance premiums, health-plan costs, and other expenses beyond the school district's control have been the driving forces behind the district's budget squeeze.

Early in the discussion, the board debated whether it should commit to providing full-day kindergarten if a new levy passes. But several members cautioned that such a move could backfire, particularly among voters who don't have children in school. Full-day kindergarten would require adding three teachers at an estimated cost of $145,000.

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