It is critical that the Archbold Area School Board “get something on the calendar” and discuss what to do about a soon-to-expire property tax levy.
Christine Ziegler, school district treasurer, made that statement to members of the school board during their Monday night, Oct. 18 meeting.
Ziegler went through the district five-year financial forecast, a document the board must file with the state officials twice a year, in May and October.
Discussing the revenue side of the ledger, Ziegler pointed out several factors that are leading to decreased revenue for the district, such as a general slow growth due to the slumping economy and housing market, and a phase-out of personal property taxes on businesses.
The five-year forecast shows revenue falling from about $11.9 million in fiscal year 2010 (July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2010) to about $11.75 million projected at the end of fiscal year 2011. By fiscal year 2014, the projected revenue figure is about $9.27 million.
The revenue forecasts include the expiration of a five-year, $1.1 million, 4.91- mill emergency property tax levy approved in November 2006.
On the expense side, Ziegler said expenses at the end of fiscal year 2010 were about $11.5 million. She projects the figure will increase to $11.8 million at the end of fiscal year 2011, based on salary increases as per negotiated agreements, and other factors.
Ziegler projected the district will finish fiscal year 2011, on June 30, 2011, with a deficit of almost $50,000.
Without either a new tax levy or a renewal of the emergency level, the district is projected to spend about $1.1 million more than it takes in at the end of fiscal year 2012.
The district can survive some deficit spending by drawing against its cash balance, a form of savings account. At the end of fiscal year 2010, the district had close to $4.75 million in cash.
Ziegler estimated that without renewal of the levy, the district could make it until the end of fiscal year 2013 before exhausting the cash reserve.
If the school board decides to ask district voters for a renewal of the $1.1-millionper year levy, and if voters pass the renewal, Ziegler said $1.1 million “only buys us a couple more years.”
Actually, the financial forecast states the district would make it to June 30, 2014, with about $700,000 left in the bank, not nearly enough to make it through the 2015 fiscal year.
Forecasts are based on best available information, and by their very nature, cannot be 100% accurate.
For example, the future of state funding of schools is uncertain, as there may be a change in the Ohio governorship next month.
David Deskins, district superintendent, commended Ziegler for “not losing her mind,” while trying to keep track of all the changes and potential changes in school funding.
Ziegler told board members the decision about a future property tax levy was theirs to make.
Deskins said there were two major questions before the board: when is the appropriate time to go to the voters for a levy, and what is the most logical levy to ask for?
Should the board ask for a renewal of the $1.1-million levy, or should it seek a general operating levy?
Scott Miller, board president, said perhaps it would be better for the district to seek a five-year levy because of the uncertainty of state funding over the next few years.
If the $1.1-million emergency levy is to be renewed, voters must approve a renewal during calendar year 2011 to assure uninterrupted collections.
There are four chances to pass the levy during 2011: Feb. 8, May 3, Aug. 2, and Nov. 8.
But due to a change in Ohio election law, the first documents to put a tax levy question on the ballot must be filed with the county board of elections 95 days before Election Day.
That would mean, Deskins said, that papers for the next election in the cycle must be filed before the first election is held.
For example, say the district puts a tax levy question before voters on Feb. 8.
To go before voters again in the May 3 election, the first paperwork must be filed with the Board of Elections on Jan. 28– 12 days before the February election is held.
Deskins asked if the school board put the question on the February ballot, then turned around and filed again for the May election before the February election was held, what message would that convey to district voters?
Board members called for some work session meetings to discuss the issue prior to the Christmas season.–David