Hamilton City Schools earns higher financial credit rating

The coming November ballot in Hamilton will be without something that has been missing in this city since 1997 — a school operating tax hike.

In Butler County, Monroe Local Schools will be the only district on the Nov. 8 ballot seeking a new tax.

But it’s been 19 years since Hamilton City Schools asked residents to pay more for operating the school system in the county seat city.

And that unusually long streak — most public school systems in Ohio often go anywhere from five to 10 years before seeking a new operating levy — is one of the reasons why Hamilton City Schools recently earned an upgrading of the district’s financial status.

Hamilton Schools’ finances went from AA- to AA, according to a credit review by FitchRatings.

“Perhaps the most important thing that the Board of Education and the community can take from the FitchRatings report,” said Robert Hancock, treasurer for the Butler County school district, “is the fact that an independent outside organization has taken the time to review a variety of financial indicators for the Hamilton city school district.”

“They are saying to investors worldwide that Hamilton schools are firmly in control of their financial resources and that the financial future of the school district is strong,” said Hancock.

Butler County’s Fairfield City Schools also had its AA rating affirmed by the FitchRatings report.

In 1997 Hamilton school officials asked voters twice for higher taxes to cover operating expenses for the district and twice voters defeated those tax levies.

The schools last won an operating tax hike in 1993, giving the district a 23-year long run that is still going.

State education officials do not track the longevity between school districts’ successful election bids for new operating taxes, but Hamilton’s streak is generally considered to be one of the longest among Ohio’s 613 public school systems.

Hamilton Schools did ask — and received voter approval — for new school bond construction tax hikes in 1999 and 2006 to fund the construction of new school buildings in Hamilton.

Under Ohio school finance law, operating taxes can only be used for the day-to-day functioning of schools, personnel costs and other daily expenditures.

“The cause of our upgraded credit rating,” said Hancock, is the district’s “long-term commitment to operating within our financial means and our prudent approach to handling new revenue.”

Though Monroe Local Schools are seeking voter approval of a new school tax on Nov. 8, it is unusual in that voters will be lowering their annual school tax by voting for the levy.

Monroe’s proposed 7.2-mills substitute levy would replace a current 8.2-mill emergency, five-year levy approved in 2012 to help the Butler County district get out of state-ordered financial emergency.

The state released Monroe from its financial control in 2014 once the school system returned to solvency.

Monroe school officials say one of the selling points of the new proposed tax would be a reduction in homeowners’ school tax bill.

If approved by voters, the proposed 7.2-mill continuing substitute tax would lower the annual school tax cost for the owner of a $100,000 home from the current $251 to a yearly cost of $220.