Funding formula triggers need for levies

On Tuesday, voters in the St. Clairsville-Richland City School District will decide on the fate of a 2.75 mill tax levy for “an additional tax for the benefit of the St-Clairsville-Richland City School District, St. Clairsville, Ohio for the purpose of current expenses for a continuing period of time, commencing in year 2013, first due in calendar year 2014.”

Supporters of the levy have been very vocal as they hit the campaign trail to insure the district’s message is heard, especially for the use of the proposed levy funds. The district, over the last five years, has reduced its budget by over $2,800,000.00, all while having lost $1,200,000.00 in state funding. Ohio’s schools, especially one like St. Clairsville-Richland, have been hard hit by unfair state funding formulas and continued state funding cuts, directly or indirectly. Ohio’s school funding issue, found unconstitutional 16 years ago, and largely ignored by the state legislature, remains a major challenge for districts like St. Clairsville. Its funding formula is very different than most, if not all, other Belmont County school districts. Regardless of one’s position on this proposed tax levy, informed voters need to be aware that the district has made dramatic cuts to its ever-decreasing budget. As a result, the district’s issues are being able to maintain and improve a quality education, addressing the ever-increasing security issues, and maintaining its physical facilities in a manner that is safe to the district’s students and staff. In that regard, levy proponents state that these levy funds will be used to fix building leaks, replace the elementary building’s roof, replace damaged doors, repair very evident and widespread water damage and improve general security of its facilities. Perhaps the biggest issue to note to voters is, that, while this levy is labeled as an additional 2.75 mill levy on your ballot, it will result in little or no additional funds on voters’ tax bills. In 2001, voters approved a 2.75 mill, 12 year bond issue that was used to demolish the old middle school building and replace it with the new building ‘connector.’ The bond issue is in its last collection year so Tuesday’s operating levy will simply “replace” the bond issue currently on the tax duplicates. Until and unless the state legislature truly addresses the state formula issue, school districts like St. Clairsville remain unfairly labeled as wealthy districts, thereby receiving less state assistance than it should if the formula were more fairly-based and properly calculated.

The second and highly-discussed ballot issue in Richland Township, including all of St. Clairsville, is the Memorial Park District of St. Clairsville City and Richland Township is the 0.25 mill tax levy for “an additional tax for the benefit of St. Clairsville and Richland Township, Memorial Park District Belmont County, Ohio for the purposes of current expenses..for the purpose of current expenses for five(5) years, commencing in year 2013, first due in calendar year 2014.”

The Park District trustees note that, because of state formula local government funding cuts, the district has received less state funding, channeled through the Belmont County Commission and the state cuts have been so dramatic, the Richland Township trustees have been unable to help fund the park, as it has done for many years. For many years, the Richland Township trustees were fiscally able to give the park up to $20,000.00 per year and only because of local government fund cuts, they are no longer able to do so. Moreover, the park district, in 2008, received $31,805.00 per year in local government funding; the projected figure for fiscal year 2013 is $9,642.00. As one can readily see, while maintenance and repair costs, along with insurance, increase each year, the park tries to operate on less and less funding. The levy will generate approximately $80,000.00 per year for five (5) years, a sum that will help to payoff the Allen pool debt ($460,000.00) with the balance to go to general park operations, including keeping the pool open. Beyond the quality of life issue if the park closes, the biggest issue here is current outstanding debt for the recent complete and full rehabilitation of the Allen pool. Under Ohio law, if the park closes and the park district disbands, residents in Richland Township, including the City of St. Clairsville, will be fully responsible for the debt owed by the park on its current loan. Therefore, regardless of one’s position on the tax levy, residents will be paying for the park whether it is open or not and that is an important factor to note for this coming Tuesday.

In summation and in the bigger picture, both of these proposed tax levies, along with many of the ones previously-discussed, are the net result of state local government funding formulas that need to be revised and/or state law funding formulas that are archaic and have deemed to be unconstitutional four times since 1997,

Currently, the legislature has before it Am. Sub. HB 59, which hopefully restore some of the local government funding cuts to pre-2008 status so that counties, townships, cities, libraries and park districts can be partially restored of thousands of dollars lost in the last five years. As for school district funding, until the legislature, with the cooperation of the governor’s office, legitimately addresses the school funding issue, Ohio’s schools will continue to face severe budget issues.