Brookville pairs school levy request with bond refinancing

Voters in the Brookville school district will decide whether or not to approve a 2-mill permanent improvement levy on the November ballot, but this levy has a twist.

If approved, the permanent levy would raise about $390,000 each year to help the schools pay for non-personnel costs such as security and technology improvements, buses, classroom materials, and other facility needs.

But the levy comes just as the district has refinanced its 15-year-old construction bonds, creating a significant savings for taxpayers in 2019 and beyond. So while the new levy on the ballot would cost the owner of a $100,000 home $70 per year, the refinancing will save that same property owner slightly more than that, the Montgomery County Auditor’s office confirmed.

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Essentially, a “yes” vote on the levy would mean the school district gets the new levy funds, while the owner of a $100,000 home would actually see their school taxes drop by about $10 per year. A “no” vote would mean no new facility funding for the schools, and an $80 annual tax drop for that property owner.

“On November 6th, we can meet the vital capital and maintenance needs of the school district without an increase in the current tax rate,” Brookville Superintendent Tim Hopkins said, calling it “a unique opportunity.”

Hopkins said the school district just refinanced the bonds from its 15-year-old school construction project, just as a homeowner might refinance their mortgage, lowering the interest rate from 4.33 percent to 2.66 percent. He said the term will stay the same, with those bonds still paying off in 2031, but taxpayers’ bills from those bonds will be lower for the next 13 years.

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Permanent improvement levy funds have to be used on items that have a life expectancy of 5 years or more. A Brookville Schools levy presentation lists $218,000 in annual needs for things such as textbooks, heating/air-conditioning maintenance, computers, other technology needs and more.

The document also cites non-annual needs such as bus replacement, parking lot repairs and new security cameras, plus one-time replacement of boilers, piping and windows at the Westbrook Building for $495,000.

Hopkins said Brookville schools currently gets about $96,000 per year in permanent improvement levy funds, outside of the bond issue. He also pointed out that Brookville’s current school tax rate is comparatively low. According to the county auditor, of the 14 Montgomery County districts without a school income tax, Brookville’s school property tax rate is second-lowest, higher only than Jefferson Twp. schools.

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On the 2017-18 state report card, Brookville ranked second in the county in performance index on state tests, earning an overall grade of “B” from the state, and an “A” in student progress.

District officials said in their levy presentation that “we do not anticipate any new operating levy (for personnel costs) in the foreseeable future.”

Hopkins said school security options, computer maintenance/replacement, and purchase of a handicap-accessible school bus would be first priorities if the levy passes. He said even with a relatively new 14-year-old school building, HVAC and maintenance costs are increasing.

“We’re talking about school buses, the truck that we plow snow with, the truck that pulls our band trailer, the mowers we use on our 52 acres, and textbooks are eating us alive … there’s a whole lot more that goes into it,” Hopkins said. “Yes, our roof doesn’t need replaced right now and shouldn’t for a long time. But the textbooks we put in the hands of children, the computers we put them in front of, the school buses, they don’t last that long.”

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