West Jeff Schools superintendent explains need for levy

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(Posted Sept. 10, 2019)

By Linda Dillman, Staff Writer

With less than two months to go before voters go to the polls, Jefferson Local Schools Superintendent William Mullett wants to make sure the critical nature of a 3.5-mill emergency levy is well known.

“The district ended the 2018-2019 school year with a deficit of approximately $850,000 due to increased costs,” said Mullett during a Sept. 9 board meeting. “In order to keep existing programs and services, we need a little more help from our community.

“We have not asked for a new operating levy in 20 years.”

If the levy passes, the cost to the taxpayer will be $10.21 per month per $100,000 of property valuation.

According to Mullett, the combination of a continual drop in state funding over a 10-year period and increased costs through mandates is depleting school coffers.

“Federal and state mandated costs, including special education and preschool, have gone up dramatically in the last five to seven years,” he said. “In one year, special education costs went up nearly $300,000.

Mullett said many of the children with special needs who are served by the county are now served by the district, including those with higher needs.

While, if approved, the levy would generate $769,711 per year for seven years, there is still a gap the district needs to fill to make up the deficit.

“The district has begun a program of requiring new businesses in the industrial park to pay a one cent per square foot (of developed space) side agreement,” Mullett said. “As well, we are working with the village on a shared tax agreement for a five-year period that will also bring in additional revenue.”

During his presentation to the board, Mullett said the district is asking the village of West Jefferson to split income tax revenue on businesses generating $1 million or more. He estimated the agreement could bring in an additional $150,000.

“The revenue from the industrial park—in total—pays for only one payroll in our annual budget,” Mullett stated.

“Because all of the businesses in the park in which the schools have agreements that are 100 percent tax (property) abated, the district only receives about 14 percent of the taxes otherwise owed to the district.”

Mullett told board members that if the same properties were not abated and were required to pay the full tax on their properties, the amount would be more than $2.6 million.

Open enrollment netted the district $500,000 when it was implemented because the schools had empty seats to fill. However, due to anticipated growth, administrators have since closed open enrollment, resulting in a $150,000 drop in revenue to $350,000.

“The district collects the lowest millage in Madison County at 33.66 mills,” Mullett said, “and has continued to provide safe, well-kept buildings and facilities.

“We have excellent staff and administrators who offer a broad curriculum to meet the needs of today’s students. We have worked hard to keep taxes in our community as low as possible while still delivering an excellent educational value for our community.”

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