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Published: Tuesday, 9/13/2005

School tax repeal fails to reach Nov. ballot

BY VANESSA WINANS
BLADE STAFF WRITER

BRYAN - A request for voters to repeal the Millcreek-West Unity Local School District's 1 percent income tax will not appear on the Nov. 8 ballot.

Williams County Common Pleas Court Judge Anthony Gretick ruled yesterday that the petition drive for the ballot question did not have enough valid signatures.

Judge Gretick heard about 15 minutes of testimony in the effort to kill the tax that puts about $500,000 in the coffers of the school district. The second person to testify, petition circulator Karen Richard, sealed the deal for the judge, he said.

Mrs. Richard told the court that she had not seen each person who signed her petition actually put pen to paper. However, she signed a statement declaring she had seen each person sign the petition. That made her circulator certificate improper, which invalidated all 25 signatures on her petition, Williams County prosecutor Craig Roth said. That put the total number of signatures for all six petitions below the minimum of 129.

"Once it was apparent that one of the petitions was invalid, it was clear there were not enough valid signatures for the matter to proceed to a ballot," the judge said.

He heard only five minutes of testimony from Mrs. Richard before calling a recess, he said. At that point, several of the nearly 100 people in the courtroom applauded.

"I think most of the people who were there were persons who did not want the question to go on the ballot," Judge Gretick said.

The court decision was the region's second such in a week. On Sept. 7, the Wood County Board of Elections unanimously voted to invalidate a page of petition signatures in support of a repeal of a 6-mill levy in the North Baltimore school district. That action came about after an attorney for the school district presented evidence that the petitions' circulator had not witnessed all of the sheet's signatures.

Deb Piotrowski, who became superintendent of the Millcreek-West Unity district on Aug. 1, was thrilled with yesterday's outcome, and what it means for the district's 750 students.

"I'm very happy this didn't make it to the ballot, because it would have taken away money we desperately needed to operate," she said.

"I'm very happy that the people who signed the petitions and wrote the protests spoke up," she added. "That says a lot."

The issue came to a head last week, when 30 people who had signed the petitions in June and early July filed protests, saying they did not want their signatures counted. Many said they believed the petitions were not to be filed if former superintendent Ken Boyer left the district, which he did. The petitions did not mention Mr. Boyer.

The protesters did not have to testify yesterday.

Mrs. Richard, who uses a wheelchair, said her lack of mobility played a part in the oversight.

"I didn't see all the signatures because I'm in a wheelchair," she said in an interview after the hearing. "I physically went out in the wheelchair, but I didn't see the person write it in front of me."

She expressed relief the matter was closed. "It's over with, and I'm glad of it," she said. "The community's all back together."

Mr. Roth said he would not pursue any action against Mrs. Richard for signing the circulator's certificate, even though she had not witnessed all the signatures. "I think she made a mistake," the prosecutor said. "It's time to move on."

The superintendent said the district is also pleased to put the matter to rest.

"We have a sigh of relief," Ms. Piotrowski said. "The teachers and staff are really happy."



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