Renewal levy for Warren

BARLOW-A 5.54-mill emergency renewal levy that will generate $1.75 million for operational expenses is in the hands of the community in the Warren Local school district again when voters cast their ballots during the May 6 election.

The renewal levy is the same levy that has made it on the ballot four previous times since 1995 that voters have approved each time before.

Administrators for the district have been working to stress that this levy is only a 10-year renewal of the same amount that has been in place for almost 20 years, as some opposition has formed against new and increased taxes.

“In the last five years there’s been a lot of bond issues about building projects, and because of that people think that’s what it’s about,” said Warren Local Superintendent Kyle Newton. “It’s not about building and it’s not about renovation, it’s just a renewal levy that’s already been passed four times.”

Newton referred to the six bond levies the district has put on the ballot and failed since 2010 regarding construction and renovation among its four schools.

Unlike a bond levy, which is specifically for construction purposes, this emergency renewal levy is only for day-to-day operations, including textbooks, technology equipment and supplies that the district needs to make up for gaps in state funding.

“Sometimes people will say ‘it’s just one more thing,’ but this is just for operations,” Newton said. “It’s about maintaining what we currently have, not getting anything new.”

Because millage rates are based on property valuation in a district, and the levy is there to generate the same amount each time, the mill rate has decreased from 9 mills in the mid-1990s to 5.54 mills, meaning that if a resident’s house value was consistent over time, they would be paying less now than they would have in 1995.

A 5.54-mill levy means that a taxpayer would pay $.554 cents for each $100 of the value of their property. For a $100,000 home, that would mean that the taxpayer would pay $554 each year to go toward the levy.

“I think it’s hurting older people on fixed incomes, as well as young families who are trying to get a start, to have to pay more in taxes,” said Warren Township resident Eileen Wiseman, whose two grandchildren attend Warren schools. “I feel like if the system used their money more wisely, we would not have to pay this much.”

Wiseman said though she knows it is costly to run a district, she still feels there is room to save.

“People already have home expenses and bills piling up; this is the last thing they need,” she said.

The last time the emergency levy went on the ballot in 2009, it passed with 66.62 percent in support and 33.38 percent against it. In 2005, the levy passed with about 51 percent in support and 49 percent against.

Newton and the school district sent home information regarding the levy to clear up misconceptions, and noted that of the district’s $20 million budget to keep the three elementary schools and high school running, this levy makes up more than eight percent of it.

“It’s a substantial amount that we really rely on,” Newton said.

Warren Township resident Donna Dye said as long as the district is not asking to build new schools, she is in support of the levy.

“I’ve been in the schools, and I know they need they money because it does get expensive and a lot of stuff teachers pay out of pocket for,” she said. “I don’t mind if they need this for just day-to-day things. These are old schools, and they need maintained.”

Newton said the district decided to be proactive because of recent state legislation that allows emergency renewal levies to hold for 10 years instead of just five.

“We’ve asked the voters for this four times already, and it costs money to put it on the ballot. Knowing that we need this money because it’s such an integral part of the budget, it made sense to extend the amount of time,” he said.

Warren Local receives just more than 60 percent of its funding from the state of Ohio, a problem that some rural schools say results in an unfair distribution of money.

“I don’t think it matters much what it’s for, I just don’t think they need the extra money,” said Warren Township resident Peggy Bland. “I’ve seen schools much worse off than these that are just fine as they are.”

Newton said because the district is acting fast, they have several chances to pass this levy. If it does not pass in May, it will go on the ballot again in November and then again in May 2015, because the levy will go toward the 2015-2016 school year.

“Thinking about what we’d have to do to make it up, we haven’t thought too much about it because we have a lot of time,” he said. “We won’t have a plan in place for a while and unless we need it.”

Laurie Arbaugh lives in Wood County, W.Va. and is a grandparent of two Warren students, but said that she would support a levy anywhere, and education has to come first.

“It’s just that people don’t want to pay more taxes,” she said. “But schools have to operate, and it takes a lot to keep them going. I think some people will automatically vote against something if it means more money, regardless of the need.”

Newton said anyone with questions can contact him or treasurer Melcie Wells with any more questions, and also said that at the board’s April 21 meeting, the last before the May 6 election, there will be a presentation on the levy.