The five largest suburban school districts in the Dayton area will have property tax levies on the Nov. 5 ballot — with Beavercreek, Centerville, Kettering and Huber Heights schools asking for additional funds, and Springboro asking for a renewal levy that would actually cost less money.
Those school districts are among a wave of more than 50 cities, counties, school districts, townships, libraries and other agencies who will ask for tax funding in Montgomery, Greene, Warren and Miami counties this fall.
Wednesday was the deadline for Ohio jurisdictions to file levy plans for the November ballot. Locally, the requests range from a tiny 0.4-mill renewal for Bellbrook-Sugarcreek Parks, to new requests for more than 6 mills from Beavercreek and Vandalia-Butler schools.
Voters in Beavercreek, Huber Heights and Vandalia-Butler, among other school districts, have rejected repeated levy requests in recent years.
“We’re trying to get out with the community and hear what they have to say. They’ve spoken loudly to us three times at the polls, and we want to make sure we’re understanding what the issues are,” new Vandalia-Butler Superintendent Bradley Neavin said Wednesday. “We’re very, very lean as a school district, and we’re at risk of becoming very skinny, and skinny’s not healthy, because that means we’re not offering programs for kids.”
Neavin said Vandalia-Butler has made numerous cuts in recent years — citing 71 teachers, 11 administrators, pay freezes, increased health care contributions and more.
Beavercreek school officials make similar arguments, citing a $5 million reduction in salary expenses and the elimination of high school busing in a district that has not approved new operating funds since 2003. Beavercreek lowered its levy millage from 6.7 mills last year to 6.3 mills this year, and gathered a group of local business and civic leaders, who endorsed the new levy.
But some residents are less than impressed. Flo Thompson, chairman of the Tax Busters group that opposed the city of Beavercreek’s income tax issue in May, argued that lowering the millage actually hurts Beavercreek Schools’ credibility.
“If you didn’t need that much, why did you ask for it to begin with?” Thompson said, adding that she traces recent levy failures to a struggling economy, not hate for the schools. “I call it voter harassment. We say no, and they say, “We still want it.’ ”
In the past few years, voters seem largely unwilling to increase their taxes. In Montgomery County, since the start of 2011, only seven of 27 school levies asking for new money have passed (26 percent). In that same period, more than 90 percent of renewal levies, which generally do not increase taxes, have passed.
New-money property tax levies on the November ballot are the first ones affected by a state law forcing local property owners to pay the full amount of new levies. In past years, the state chipped in 12.5 percent of the levy cost, through a property tax “rollback.”
That practice will continue on renewals of existing levies, but not on new or replacement levies. For the many school levies in the 4.5-mill to 7-mill range, that’s an extra $20 to $30 per year for the owner of a $100,000 home.
School leaders worry that elimination of the rollback will make ballot issues harder to pass, as more of the tax burden is shifted from the state to local residents.
“In many Ohio communities, local taxpayers already provide the majority of the funding for their schools — and now they will have to pay more for new levies,” said Ohio School Boards Association Executive Director Richard Lewis. “We worry this could be a deal-breaker for new levies during a time when school district budgets are already stretched thin.”
School operating levies are not the only tax issues on the November ballot.
In Montgomery County, the city of Trotwood is seeking an additional 4.15-mill fire/EMS levy that would raise an estimated $1.05 million per year for the next five years. And Riverside will ask voters to consider a 0.5 percent increase in the city’s income tax — from 1.5 percent to 2 percent. The increase would raise an estimated $1.42 million per year, the bulk of which would go toward fixing residential streets, according to city officials.
In Greene County, the city of Beavercreek is planning only a renewal of a small, 1-mill roads levy, a few months after city voters rejected an income tax measure that would have raised millions more, largely for capital projects like roadwork. Other than Beavercreek schools, the only brand-new levies in the county are to pay for roads — 1.8 mills in Jamestown, 5 mills in Jefferson Twp. and 1.50 mills in New Jasper Twp.
In Warren County, Lebanon voters will have a busy ballot. City voters will consider a replacement fire/ambulance levy that would increase the millage from 5.5 to 7.0 for five years. And Lebanon schools voters have two issues to consider, but they’re not operating levies. The district is presenting a 37-year, $27.4 million bond issue intended to finance a new junior high school and renovations to other schools. Another, smaller, 23-year measure would pay for maintenance.