Forum gives Bellbrook-Sugarcreek residents info on taxes, school spending and levy affect on both

Bellbrook schools Superintendent Doug Cozad (left) and David Carpenter answer residents’ school levy questions at a community meeting Monday, Feb. 3, 2020 at Bellbrook Middle School. JEREMY P. KELLEY / STAFF
Bellbrook schools Superintendent Doug Cozad (left) and David Carpenter answer residents’ school levy questions at a community meeting Monday, Feb. 3, 2020 at Bellbrook Middle School. JEREMY P. KELLEY / STAFF

Residents of the Bellbrook-Sugarcreek school district got an overload of information Monday night, as school and county officials gave detailed reports about taxes, school spending and how the March 17 levy would affect both.

Voters will decide in March on a permanent, 5.7-mill levy to pay for day-to-day school expenses. The levy is projected to cost the owner of a $100,000 home $199.50 per year and would generate an annual $3.3 million for the school district, according to Greene County Auditor David Graham. Graham said if the levy passes, a resident’s property tax bill would increase by about 8 percent.

EARLIER: Bellbrook-Sugarcreek voters to decide new school tax request

Many residents asked Graham how the 2020-21 countywide reappraisal process would affect their tax bill on top of that levy.

Graham estimated Bellbrook-Sugarcreek residents’ property values will go up about 12% in the 2020-21 reappraisal process. But he said most levies are not directly affected by reappraisals, so the school district’s property tax revenues might rise about 4% as a result, or $848,000, largely tied to new construction values.

Bellbrook schools Superintendent Doug Cozad gave a detailed presentation of the district’s financial picture. The district currently projects it is on track to run out of money in two years.

RELATED: State audit suggests ways to trim schools’ budget

Cozad said the school district already has committed to significant budget cuts, eliminating 20 staff positions. They are now considering further cost-cutting recommendations made in a state performance audit triggered by the district’s tenuous financial position.

Cozad has repeatedly said passing the levy would be a better first step, arguing that said some of the recommended cuts would “strike at the core of our schools” and “change the student experience.”

Some residents on Monday asked why the district doesn’t keep the same number of staff, but have them take a pay and benefits cut rather than further reducing staffing levels.

Cozad pointed out that all district staff are taking a pay freeze next year, but school board President David Carpenter took a longer-term approach.

DECEMBER: Longtime school board member resigns

“You look around at your local peers and say, if we’re going to compete for talent to teach in our schools, we need to be competitive with what’s available in the market,” Carpenter said. “If you want to send all of your good teachers away, cut the pay.”

Cozad said there will be further budget cuts if the March levy is rejected, and he will announce those projected cuts by the time early voting begins this month, so residents can have all information before they cast their ballots.

“The reductions if the levy doesn’t pass are real hard decisions. (The program) I want to stay, someone else may want it to go,” Cozad said. “People want to pick the one that doesn’t impact me or my child. We’re trying our best to (keep the cuts) out of the classroom as much as possible.”

SEPTEMBER: Lawsuit alleges Bellbrook school board broke law

Multiple residents said Monday’s event was helpful, either in explaining the mechanics of taxes and levies, or their effect on the schools and their wallets. Sugarcreek Twp. resident Bob Wilson said as a retiree he worries about increased taxes, but said he could see the need for the levy Monday.

Kathy Elliott and Karen Bachelder both appreciated the tone of the meeting, in light of recent raw, accusatory exchanges among multiple Facebook groups for and against the levy.

Elliott said she came away with “a lot of very factual information, and it was not political at all, which was very good.” Bachelder joked that she came to “see what the goat rodeo was all about” after seeing a lot of “very negative politicking” on social media and “misbehaving adults on both sides.”

“I thought it was educational,” she said. “While I may not have changed my mind just yet, I came up with some additional questions and additional answers. But this time, I got the facts rather than going to Facebook.”

APRIL: School levy beset by errors, arguments on both sides