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Published: Wednesday, 4/27/2005

Fulton County: Decision scheduled on levy decision

BY JANE SCHMUCKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

WAUSEON - Whether the Fulton County Board of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilties will ask for a levy in November that would raise taxes by $11 a year or $41 a year - or a figure in between - on a $100,000 home, is to be decided next month.

The disabilities board is to vote on its recommendation May 16. Then the matter will go to the Fulton County Commissioners, who have the ultimate authority in putting disabilities issues on the ballot.

How much the disabilties board is likely to ask for seemed hard to predict at its meeting this week.

The board appeared torn between asking for the higher increase in a new, permanent levy, which should allow it to greatly reduce its waiting lists, or a smaller increase that would probably be more likely to pass on the first try at the polls. That's important to the board because it has decided to wait until the November ballot to ask voters for money even though it has a levy that expires this year.

"I'm really frustrated," board member Rose Slagle said Monday of the decision. She said she feared that many voters do not understand the complexities of federal, state, and local funding the board uses for a plethora of programs for disabled children and adults.

One of the waiting lists the board has talked about most is for a program for disabled adults to move out of their family home and into a government-funded apartment with a similarly disabled roommate.

Earlier this month Sharon Schaefer, whose 28-year-old son, Nathan, has been on such a list for 10 years exhorted the board to ask for enough money in November to help people like him move.

"How much longer must Nathan wait?" she asked. "I'm asking the board, where's the plan? What's the goal?" she said.

Board president Lisa Meeker said the board will use the next two weeks to talk to voters. "We're trying to see what people are thinking out there," she said.

She has been one of the more hesitant board members in discussions about asking for the largest of the proposed levies, saying that conservative voters with large property holdings might be inclined to vote no.

"I picture my grandpa and he was a farmer and I know what he would say. And he was a good man," she said.

Board member Tim Coll, however, spoke in favor of the largest levy, which would help the board to meet its priority list.

"Anything less, you're just spinning your wheels - and asking for more the next time," he said.

The board's 1-mill levy that expires this year generates almost $813,000 a year at a cost of more than $27 a year to the owner of a $100,000, owner-occupied home. Replacing that levy would generate more than $899,000 a year - an increase of $86,000 from simply renewing it.

But the board is mulling asking instead for a larger levy.

The smallest of those levies under consideration is a new 1.5-mill levy, with the promise that the board would stop collections on a 0.5-mill, continuing levy on the books now. Such a plan would cost the owner of a $100,000 house an extra $11 a year and increase the agency's collections by $300,000 a year.

Under consideration as well are a new 2-mill or 2.5-mill levy, also with the promise of stopping collections of the 0.5-mill continuing levy. Those plans could increase taxes for such a homeowner by up to $41 a year and the agency's collections by $1.1 million.

Such a homeowner now pays $90 a year in taxes to the county disabilities board on a total of three levies: the 1-mill levy that expires this year, a 2-mill levy that expires in 2007, and the continuing 0.5-mill levy.

Contact Jane Schmucker at:

jschmucker@theblade.com

or 419-337-7780.



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