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Published: Thursday, 5/26/2005

COSI asks county to approve levy bid

BY DALE EMcH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Voters in Lucas County will be asked to back a levy for COSI if the county commissioners decide to place it on the ballot.

COSI officials said yesterday that they need levy dollars to compensate for annual budget deficits. Last year, the deficit was about $90,000, according to Lori Hauser, COSI's general manager.

"We've been falling short," Ms. Hauser said. "We've had some losses in the past, and we've not been able to keep up with some of the renovations in the building and to keep up with some of the programs that the community is expecting us to continue to deliver.

"For us to keep operating the way we have been and growing even further as a community resource, we need the community support."

Mark Luetke, a campaign consultant to COSI, said the exact amount of the levy request hasn't been determined, but it's estimated to be about 0.125 percent.

A levy for that amount would cost the owner of a $100,000 home about $3 a year and would generate $1.25 million, he said.

Mr. Luetke said it also hasn't been determined how long the levy would be in effect if passed.

The commissioners have referred the request to its newly formed citizens tax-review board. The members of that board are expected to gather information from COSI officials and offer a recommendation to the commissioners. The commissioners aren't bound by the recommendation, so the decision ultimately rests with them.

"I value what COSI brings to the community," Tina Skeldon Wozniak, president of the commissioners, said.

"I value the need to promote science-related learning for our young people, particularly with our need to be a highly technological society and what that means for economic development and growth in our community."

That said, Ms. Wozniak said she hasn't made up her mind about the levy request, but she understands it's a tough time to ask voters to part with more money.

Commissioner Maggie Thurber said she has "serious concerns" about the levy request, but she is gathering information that will help her make a decision about whether to back it.

"I stand by my previous comments that I don't think it's a wise time to put anything on the ballot - especially after the defeat of [many area] school levies," Ms. Thurber said.

Like his fellow commissioners, Pete Gerken said he hasn't made a decision on the levy yet. He said COSI faces some unique challenges because it has to change its exhibits regularly, which helps drive up expenses.

He said the tax-review board, which he proposed, was created to help the commissioners with levy requests such as the one COSI will be making.

"It will help us analyze the data," he said. "For me to say I'm for or against this right now, I can't because they haven't had a chance to present their case," Mr. Gerken said.

Ms. Hauser said COSI has an annual operating budget of about $3.5 million. She said about 80 percent comes from paid admissions and the rest is generated by sponsorships and grants.

Dr. Michael Walsh, chairman of COSI's board of directors, said he knows a levy will be a tough sell, but he said there's a clear need for education in the sciences.

He said COSI tries to make learning about science exciting and fun for children.

"We really do have to stimulate interest in science, technology, and engineering," Dr. Walsh said.

Contact Dale Emch at:

daleemch@theblade.com

or 419-724-6061.



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