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Published: Friday, 10/7/2005

District again asks voters for more funds

BY STEVE MURPHY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

OAK HARBOR, Ohio - For the fourth time in a year, the Benton-Carroll-Salem Local School District is asking voters for more operating money.

Residents of the district in central Ottawa County turned down five-year, 5.3-mill levies in May and August this year, and also rejected a 4.8-mill request in November, 2004.

Recognizing that high energy costs have taken a bite out of many household budgets, school officials are asking for less this time, placing a five-year, 3.9-mill emergency operating levy on the Nov. 8 ballot.

Treasurer Jeff Dornbusch said the measure would raise about $1.2 million a year. That's less than the district really needs to maintain programs for its 2,100 students and keep its budget healthy, Mr. Dornbusch added, but officials decided a smaller levy would have a better chance of passing.

"We did this strictly to try to meet the needs of the taxpayers and the economic times we're in," Mr. Dornbusch said. "This does not give us as much breathing room as the finance committee would like, but they understand everybody's pocketbooks are stretched right now, so they wanted to get something instead of nothing."

The levy would cost the owner of a $100,000 home about $123 a year, according to the Ottawa County auditor's office. That compares with about $167 a year for the 5.3 mills that voters rejected in August.

Mr. Dornbusch said the district is spending less this year on operations than it did in 2000 and wouldn't need more money at all if not for a change in state tax policy.

Under the change, personal property tax receipts from nuclear power plants are spread throughout the operating utility's service area, instead of going solely to the school district where the facility is located.

That means the district lost $1.5 million a year in revenue that it used to collect from the Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station near Oak Harbor.

Mr. Dornbusch said the district is fighting the ruling, made by the Ohio Department of Taxation.

The district has a budget reserve of about $3.5 million, but the treasurer said projections show the schools would begin running deficits in two years without more revenue or cost cuts.

The school board last year cut 3 1/2 full-time teaching positions through attrition and negotiated a wage freeze with the teachers' union for the current school year. In addition, the district replaced four full-time teachers who retired over the summer with part-time instructors and closed its buildings to nonschool activities to save on energy costs.

"We're very blessed with a nice swimming pool, which is something our seniors count on for therapy and just for exercise," Mr. Dornbusch said. "Currently that's closed."



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