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Published: Wednesday, 5/4/2011

Pike-Delta-York to seek levy

Decision for 5.99-mill August ballot issue follows 4 defeats

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

DELTA, Ohio -- When it comes to doing more with less, Pike-Delta-York school officials consider themselves ahead of their counterparts in neighboring communities.

Now, they're hopeful that, after four consecutive defeats, voters in their eastern Fulton County district will approve a property levy they say is the bare minimum they could request to maintain educational programs until better economic times return.

"It buys us some breathing space," Superintendent of Schools Robin Rayfield said before the board of education's vote last week to put the three-year, 5.99-mill tax on the Aug. 2 special-election ballot.

"It's a bridge -- a bridge to the future, hopefully."

Both the levy's term and its size are concessions to the tough economic climate that Mr. Rayfield and school board members blame for Pike-Delta-York's four consecutive ballot-box defeats: a $632,500 emergency levy renewal in November, 2008, a new 0.75-percent earned-income tax the following May, a $900,000 emergency levy in August, 2009, and a 1.25-mill earned-income tax last November.

The last tax approved was the original $632,500 emergency levy, in November, 2003, and it passed by only 78 votes out of 2,718 cast.

The income tax most recently on the ballot, which would have been permanent, would have generated an estimated $1,549,917, but it lost by a 1,948-1,048 vote.

The proposed emergency levy would raise $909,937 annually.

That number would be the levy's annual revenue regardless of changes in the district's tax base.

It was calculated after the school board's decision, based on the results of a community survey, to seek a 5.99-mill tax.

James Friess, the school board's president, said the district needs about $1.4 million in new revenue to stabilize its finances.

But the survey showed that a tax capable of generating that much was unlikely to pass.

During the past four years, the school board has eliminated the full-time equivalent of 16.5 teachers, several aides, and the principal at York Elementary School with that building's closure in 2008.

Those cuts have provided most of $1.6 million in saving, but at the same time district revenue has fallen because of declining property values, Ohio's elimination of the tangible personal property tax, and the 2003 levy's expiration.

"We're not going to get there by cutting -- we've already made the cuts," Mr. Friess said. "If we cut more, it really does impact negatively on the students. We're hoping this gets us to the recovery."

Even with adding 10 mills, Pike-Delta-York's taxes would be second lowest in the area, the board president said -- "but it was unrealistic to hope they [voters] would go for a levy that would get us there."

Mr. Friess added that he suspects many voters perceived the district's early levy requests to be "more than what was truly needed."

If approved, the levy will cost the owner of a $100,000 house $183.44 in annual tax; owners of agricultural land would pay about $136.28 per hundred acres.

With a three-year term, the new tax request is just "a temporary fix," board member Todd Yoder agreed.

"We're going to be coming back to the taxpayers again," he said.

Mr. Rayfield said the cuts already made, which reduced teaching staff by 15 percent and transportation and custodial services by 20 percent, have affected students.

"We don't have shop. We don't have French," he said.

But right now, the superintendent said, even a stopgap levy would be better than nothing.

"When you're dying of thirst, even a gallon of water helps you," Mr. Rayfield said.



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