(Posted July 9, 2019)
By Linda Dillman, Staff Writer
For the first time in nearly three decades, Jefferson Local Schools is going to the ballot to ask voters for new operational funding to shore up declining revenue.
On July 8, board members took the first step toward placing an anticipated 3.5-mill, seven-year emergency levy on the Nov. 5 general election ballot.
“It was not an easy decision,” said Superintendent William Mullett regarding the levy. “It never is.”
According to district Treasurer Jill Williams, if approved, the levy would generate approximately $769,711 per year and cost the owner of a property valued at $100,000 an additional $122.50 per year.
Currently, for each $1,000 of taxable valuation, Madison County property owners in the Jefferson Local district pay $33.66. Mullett reported the amount is the one of lowest in central Ohio.
“In order to keep our current programs and offerings for our students, it is critical that we increase our local funding,” Mullett stated. “The district is in deficit spending by around $860,000, with increases forecast for the future… This is unsustainable.”
Williams said the district’s original (and current) 9.5-mill emergency levy was approved by voters more than 20 years ago. Other levies passed as far back as the 1980s are still on the books.
“We haven’t passed a levy for new money in 25 to 30 years,” Williams noted. “We have not raised any new money for operations during that period.”
In addition to the property tax levies, the school district receives funding from a 1 percent tax on earned income. People on pensions and Social Security are not affected by the income tax.
Property owners are paying less in taxes on an individual basis due to rollbacks and the roll-off of a 3-mill permanent improvement levy that was removed when the district completed a facilities improvement project 10 years ago.
Mullett also pointed out there is a misconception that the district is the recipient of considerable revenue from industrial developments in the area.
Tax abatement agreements result in Jefferson Local annually forgoing approximately $2.6 million in taxes for the life of the abatements in exchange for approximately $200,000 each year, he said.
“While the growth of the industrial park has benefitted the district, it ($200,000) only pays for the equivalent of one month of our 12 payrolls,” Mullett said. “While the business revenue is helpful, we still depend heavily on traditional state and local revenue to fund our operations.
“However, due to several factors, we are faced with the real need to increase our revenue,” he said.
Those factors include: no increase in state funding over the last decade, revenue lost from the elimination of a tangible property tax on businesses, and a change in student demographics resulting in the need for more special education programming, particularly at the pre-school level.
“This has occurred at the same time that the state has continued to increase unfunded mandates and testing requirements,” Mullett added.
“The prospect of new growth in our district will increase our costs and present new challenges both in space and funding. It is critical that we are able to meet our current needs and programs prior to seeing the impacts of growth and development.”