Schools weigh budget change

Area school districts have a lot to digest with the new $62 billion spending plan that Gov. John Kasich signed last week – including a late addition that will affect future school levies.

The two-year budget eliminates a combined 12.5 percent state property-tax rollback on new and replacement levies passed in November 2013 and beyond. It’s a change that one local woman believes will make a bad situation worse.

“There’s got to be another way to do this. The property taxes should not be for schools,” said Sherry Champlin, a longtime Champion resident.

“We have a lot of folks in Champion, they’re older … and when things like this happen, we have to figure out some way to cut so that we can pay for something that, really, we’re not getting any benefit from,” Champlin said.

“My husband and I have talked about moving to get out of Champion. I’ve lived here my whole life … It’s going to be hard to do, but in order to be able for me to enjoy the lifestyle that I’m used to, I have to go someplace else,” she said.

According to state estimates, elimination of the rollback will mean an increase of $4.38 a year – 37 cents a month – for the owner of a $100,000 house. That estimate does not take into account that many residents may pay multiple property-tax levies, for example, to their local schools, library and county or township.

And education isn’t the only area affected; local government, libraries and other services that are funded by property-tax levies approved at the local level are losing the subsidy as well.

Jim Lynch, special adviser on State Budget Communications for the Office of Budget Management, said the subsidized tax relief for property owners was a result of a “flawed policy” dating back to 1971.

“In an attempt to soften criticism of the then-new state income system, the state began paying a portion of homeowners’ property tax imposed by local levies and eventually increased this state subsidy to 12.5 percent. The fact is that this so-called tax relief is a myth, since the state simply taxes all Ohioans more – including seniors and the low-income who don’t own property – to cover the cost of this ‘relief,'” he said.

While some officials are still reviewing the new budget and how it could affect their districts, others – like Austintown Superintendent Vincent Colaluca – expressed concern with some of the changes.

“They’re pushing more and more dollars back onto the local taxpayers when they take away the rollback. Where’s the money going to come from? It’s going to come from the locals. It’s unfortunate, but that’s the way it is,” Colaluca said.

Niles interim Superintendent Frank Danso said the effects of the rollback elimination are unknown at this time, but his district is still evaluating the new budget and the rollback is one of three issues being under scrutiny.

Liberty Superintendent Stan Watson said the new budget, including the elimination of the tax relief, is something the district will look at closely in the coming days.

“It is still tied to property valuation, and certainly in a community like Liberty, we have a very unique dynamic where we have relatively high property valuation but a very high population of economically disadvantaged students, and that funding dilemma works against a district like Liberty,” he said.

Lynch said the new tax reforms make the cost of property-tax levies more transparent and fair for all Ohioans, including low-wage workers.

Regardless, the change doesn’t address what Champlin considers the real issue.

“I would love to see somebody figure out how we do not have to pay property taxes to the schools, but I don’t ever look for that to happen,” she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.