By MAX FILBY
If voters renew a 5.9-mill operating levy for Findlay City Schools in May, they’ll never be asked to renew it again.
That’s because the levy is up for renewal on a continuing basis, meaning it will last forever, as opposed to the five-year approval it received from voters last time.
School officials decided to seek the continuous levy to eliminate what they call “levy fatigue” among voters, and to allow the schools to better plan for the future.
“Levy fatigue really does weigh on people,” said Superintendent Dean Wittwer. “They say, ‘Didn’t we just pass something else?’ Sometimes they don’t understand it’s something they’re already paying, not something new.”
The levy, first approved by voters in 1994, makes up 8.7 percent of the district’s annual revenue and brings in about $4.8 million a year for operating expenses such as textbooks, equipment, supplies, utilities and teacher salaries.
The owner of a house appraised at $100,000 pays about $186 a year, according to the Hancock County Auditor’s Office.
Several other area school districts, including Liberty-Benton, Arcadia, McComb and Cory-Rawson already have continuing operating levies in place.
Wittwer and Mike Barnhart, district treasurer, want to make the Findlay levy a permanent source of revenue so the district doesn’t stand a chance of losing necessary operational dollars.
During the years a levy is up for a vote, the Findlay district has to prepare for the worst. If the 5.9-mill levy doesn’t pass in May, it could be put back on the ballot in November.
But the district would have to make cuts to staff and programs before school starts in the fall, just in case the levy failed again in November. It’s a scenario neither Wittwer nor Barnhart wants to entertain.
“We really don’t like to think about that,” Wittwer said. “We’d have to start making tough decisions.”
Although voters now have to decide on a levy they can never take back or vote down again, Wittwer said they shouldn’t fret because the district has been “good stewards” of taxpayer dollars.
“We’ve proven our track record,” Wittwer said.
Due to the levy’s classification as “continuing,” if it passes, the annual revenue from it would never increase, even if property values rise.
The district would have to pass a completely new levy to get more money, according to officials at the Hancock County Auditor’s Office.
Part of the Findlay district’s record is its ability to continue operations despite inconsistent funding from the state, school officials say.
From 2011 to 2013, the district saw a decrease of about $3 million in state funding. But in 2014, state money is expected to increase by about $2 million, according to the district’s five-year forecast.
To make up for unpredictable state funding, and decreases in enrollment that hit toward the end of the last decade, the district made staff cuts, going from 878 full-time and part-time employees in 2006 to 734 in 2013, Wittwer and Barnhart said.
“We really are trying to do more with less,” Wittwer said.
The district has operated on a “fiscal health plan” for the past several years. The plan projects the number of days the district could operate with the cash it has on hand. If the levy is renewed, the district would be OK, but if the levy never passes then the district would be running a deficit by 2018, according to the district’s five-year forecast.
“It’s essential we follow this plan,” Wittwer said about the forecast’s projections. “It tells you when you need to pass levies. It makes a lot of sense.”
The Findlay district has one other continuing levy already in place. Voters approved a 2.5-mill permanent improvement levy on a continuing basis in 2006, the first time it appeared on the ballot.
The permanent improvement levy has helped to pay for the renovation of school entrances to make them more secure. Both Jacobs Primary School and Findlay High School will receive those upgrades this summer.
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