Tuesday, February 13, 2001

Schools seek tax increase

Mason board wants May vote

By Jennifer Mrozowski
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        MASON — The Mason City Schools Board of Education Monday voted to proceed with placing a tax increase on the May ballot.

        At a future meeting, the board most vote on the language of the ballot issue.

        The operating levy would be phased in from 2002-2004, starting at an estimated 6.95 mills in 2002, increasing to 8.45 mills, and then to 9.95 mills.

        Cost to the owner of a $100,000 home would be $213 in new taxes the first year, increasing to $259 and then to $305.

        The district's last operating levy was approved in 1996 for 9.8 mills, treasurer Richard Gardner said. The commitment then was not to request another operating levy until 2001.

        Operating levies pay for daily operations, such as teacher and staff salaries, supplies and other materials.

        Because of the way Ohio schools are financed, districts have to go back to voters every three or four years, Mr. Gardner said.

        “As property tax values increase due to reappraisals, county auditors decrease the tax rate,” he said. “Therefore, schools don't get inflationary revenue.”

        Mr. Gardner said that if the levy failed, the growing district of 6,700 students would hire fewer teachers, and the board would probably vote to place the levy on a future ballot.

        Operating levies are not to be confused with bond issues. Bond issues pay for capital expenses such as building projects.

        The district passed a bond issue in March 2000 for a new high school/community center complex.

        Last week, school officials said bids on the building are coming in lower than anticipated. Bids on other parts of the project — such as technology, furniture and security — are coming in higher than planned, said business manager Mike Brannon.

        The difference, he said, could be that the total project comes in about $3.6 million less than the 1999 estimates.

        The estimated $71.9 million project includes a 355,000-square-foot high school to open in August 2002 and a 140,000-square-foot recreation center to open several months later.

        Still, the bidding process is not over, he cautioned.

        “While we estimate we will come in well under budget, we can't come to that conclusion yet,” he said.

        However, if the project does come in under the original estimates, “The board would have the opportunity to decide how to invest the money into the district,” he said. The money would have to go toward capital improvement projects.

        District officials worry that residents will confuse the need for an operating levy with the possible windfall from the bond issue.

        The bond issue money cannot be used to pay operating expenses, Mr. Brannon said.


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