Benjamin Franklin may have once said nothing is certain but death and taxes.
While here in Franklin County, thankfully there has been no deaths, nor even any confirmed cases, from the coronavirus, the thing about taxes is in fact true.
By unanimous consent, the school board voted Monday to seek a mail ballot referendum for renewal by county voters of a four-year half-mill property tax levy, first approved in 2008, and twice since then passed by countywide vote.
The district has not set a date for the mail-in ballot. They would like to do it sometime in May, in advance of the budget process for the 2020-21 school year, but that could be a challenge, given that they would need an OK by the county commission before Supervisor of Elections Heather Riley could start work on the balloting process.
The cost of the mail-in ballot will run in the neighborhood of $15,000, while there would be no additional cost if it were placed on the August primary ballot. But the district has been reluctant to wait until then, given that a possible defeat could mean reversing already approved budget items.
The district also is hoping there may be funds forthcoming for mail-in balloting, given the possibility it may become more widespread in this era of the coronavirus.
The school board has asserted the roughly $1 million that the levy brings in annually is needed to maintain quality education in the county, including at the charter school.
Since the state funding formula does not allow the district to use capital funds for operating expenses, they contend that since the district lowered its capital outlay taxes by a half-mill in 2008, and has continued to keep it at that level, passing the referendum continues a tax neutral shift, with no additional property tax levies to county taxpayers.
“The district is asking for the referendum to be continued to preserve academic programs, to hire and retain highly qualified staff and to fund programs in the arts, athletics and student activities,” reads a position paper shared by the finance office.
“A failed referendum could mean cutting student programs and teachers,” it goes on to say. “The district will weigh options for finding over $1.06 million per year in budget cuts in the 2020-21 budget, just to break even. Eliminations could include student educational, athletic and extra-curricular programs, staffing, salaries, and employee benefits.”