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Published: Monday, 5/11/2009

Pike-Delta-York board to frame strategy after loss

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Fogle Fogle
KING / BLADE Enlarge

DELTA, Ohio - The Pike-Delta-York school board is to start Tuesday to plan its response to last week's resounding defeat of an income tax it had proposed. The revenue was to offset some of the funds the district lost when Ohio phased out its property tax on industrial equipment.

The defeat "doesn't erase our need. We'll be looking at our options," board President Don Fogle said, acknowledging that getting any question onto an August special election ballot would require fast action.

School superintendent Robin Rayfield said he has prepared a plan to deal with a budget deficit that will grow from $450,000 this school year to $1.9 million next year as the phase-out of Ohio's tangible property tax takes effect and payments in lieu of taxes from Worthington Steel expire.

The five-year, 0.75 percent earned-income tax that the school district had proposed would have generated an estimated $900,000 a year.

But more than two-thirds of voters who went to the polls last week turned it down, with a preliminary count of 465 to 1,040.

The defeat followed the failure last November of an emergency property tax levy that would have succeeded a similar levy in effect since 2004 that expired last year. The old emergency levy produced about $632,500 annually.

Rayfield Rayfield
KING / BLADE Enlarge

Even if the tax had passed, Mr. Rayfield said, the district planned to reduce hours for five teachers, leave unfilled a position to be vacated by retirement, cut two paraprofessional positions, and eliminate the equivalent of 2 3/4 teachers from its contracted operations with the Fulton County Educational Service Center.

Combined with a reduced travel budget for field trips and athletics, he said, those cuts are expected to yield between $500,000 and $600,000.

But if the district is unable to secure additional revenue this year, the superintendent said he will recommend a further $800,000 in spending cuts that would include reducing faculty to the equivalent of 8 1/2 or nine positions, cutting the extracurricular budget by one third, and reducing bus service.

Under the development-incentive agreements that brought

Worthington and neighboring North Star BlueScope Steel to York Township during the late 1990s, the school district received about $1 million a year in lieu of taxes from the two steel plants. That, according to Mr. Rayfield, averaged about 25 percent of what P-D-Y would have received had standard taxes been collected.

But just as those agreements began to phase out, the state of Ohio phased out the tangible property tax, costing the school district several million dollars a year.

"We'd be sitting in Fat City if they hadn't changed the tax law," Mr. Rayfield said.

Mr. Fogle said he considers the region's current weak economy to be the main reason voters overwhelmingly rejected the income-tax proposal, which would have affected only earned income like wages and salaries while not touching sources such as pensions, unemployment benefits, or rental income.

"People would really prefer not to have more taxes right now," the school board president said.

Mr. Rayfield offered several other explanations for some voters' dissent, including dissatisfaction with how the school budget has been cut or desire to "send a message" to the district's teachers' union, with which the district is currently negotiating a contract.

The school board's meeting tomorrow is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. in the board offices at 504 Fernwood St., Delta.

By law, Mr. Rayfield said, an income tax proposal may appear only on a general-election ballot, so the soonest the school board could resubmit that sort of tax is November. A property tax request could be submitted for August, although Mr. Fogle noted that to do so would require school board action this month to meet filing deadlines.

Contact David Patch at:

dpatch@theblade.com

or 419-724-6094.



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