Sunday, January 14, 2001

Schools postpone tax plans

Little Miami delays move until summer

By Jennifer Mrozowski
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        MORROW - Residents may have to wait until summer to learn whether the Little Miami School Board will place an income tax proposal or property tax levy on the November ballot.

        “We're not going to make any official decisions to go for an income tax or a property tax until the state decides what it's going to do with school funding,” said Superintendent Ralph Shell.

        The Supreme Court has given the state has until June 15 to revamp the way Ohio's schools are funded. The Supreme Court has said districts rely too heavily on local property tax dollars for school funding, making the system inherently unequal.

        Little Miami board members planned to place an income tax proposal back on last year's November ballot after residents defeated a district-wide 0.75 percent income tax last November. The income tax was their answer to rely less on property taxes.

        But Mr. Shell said the board is hesitant to push hard for money requests when taxpayers are awaiting the state's answer to the Supreme Court's June deadline.

        One thing's for sure, though: The district will need to ask taxpayers for more money this November if the state system is not overhauled, Mr. Shell said.

        Little Miami's five-year financial forecast shows the district will be operating in the red during the fiscal year 2004 unless more money is approved. Part of the reason is that collection ends Dec. 31, 2002, on a $930,000 emergency levy, said treasurer Barbara Swisher. At the same time, salaries will increase with inflation and schools will likely add staff, she said.

        Some board members have said they prefer an income tax over a property tax levy because it would account for inflation. As salaries rise, so would the district's revenue. Property tax levies generate only as much money as voters approve.

        But some residents - who voted down the income tax by more than a 2-1 ratio - have told board members they don't want to see the income tax back on the ballot.

        “I'm just really sitting on the fence about the whole issue of whether or not to do it,” board member Mary Beth Hamburg said. “I'm just not sure if we can pass it in one more try.”

        Despite the negative feedback, she said, “I firmly believe this is the answer.”

        Newly elected board president Bobbi Grice agreed.

        “I've been hearing a lot of negativity also, but it is the way to go.”

        Mr. Shell said the district will develop a packet of information for residents explaining the income tax proposal. The board will also begin planning how to publicize a property tax levy or income tax request, if necessary, he said.


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