Saturday, February 1, 2003

Levy, development deal prompt debate

By Marie McCain
The Cincinnati Enquirer

MIAMI TWP. - Tuesday's special election on a 5.9-mill operating levy for the Milford school district has some longtime township residents scratching their heads and grabbing their wallets.

Some residents are questioning an agreement by which the schools are helping to finance infrastructure along Ohio 28 for commercial development.

They say the district has the money it needs, and worry they are being taxed out of the area.

Township and school district leaders, though, say funds have been managed properly, and defended the need for the levy.

"What is the school district doing with the money they do have?" asked retiree Joe Kerr, 77, who opposes the proposed tax increase. "It never seems like it's enough."

"There are senior citizens that are being taxed out of their homes," added Shirley Trester, another longtime township resident. "There has got to be some solution to this. I know this is for the kids, but there has got to be some letup."

In May 2001, voters approved a $43.6 million bond issue so the school district could afford to build four new elementary schools. That issue added $125 a year to the tax bill on a $100,000 home.

Tuesday'slevy would be used to pay for the operations of those four new schools and others within the district. The levy would increase property taxes for the owner of a $100,000 home by $180 annually.

Last November, Miami Township entered into its first-ever tax increment financing (TIF) agreement. The TIF diverts between $2.5 million and $3 million from the school district and police levy funds in order to pay for road improvements related to a proposed development that will bring Kohl's department store to the area, according to township officials.

Township Trustee Vice Chairman Edwin Humphrey said the money from the school district is actually property tax revenue that the school district would have collected from the developed property.

Under the TIF plan, the school district will continue to collect property taxes from that site, but only at the rate the land generated when it was undeveloped. The TIF agreement will last for 30 years.

Kerr is not sold.

"The school district is giving them money and now running another levy to get the money back. If that's the case, then they might just as well give the money to the township rather than even propose a levy," he said.

But township and school district officials say there is nothing suspect about the tax issues or the TIF agreement.

School Superintendent John Frye said state funding does not cover the district's operating needs. The district's participation in the TIF agreement, he said, was a way of maintaining what the district already gets from the state.

"Our agreement with the township keeps the Kohl's from appearing on the total assessed value of the district. It protects the value of the district. If we don't have that agreement, it rolls into the value and state funding is reduced significantly. ... This was a way to keep us as whole as possible," Frye added.


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