Board Given Levy Rates

WHEELING – Ohio County’s excess levy will bring in an additional $3 million in the coming school year, and that has county board of education members split on whether to spend the additional funds or reimburse the taxpayers.

The board voted 3-2 Monday to accept the proposed levy rate schedule from Ohio County Assessor Kathie Hoffman. Board President James Jorden and members Sarah Koegler and Christine Carder voted to accept the rate schedule and said they would like to keep the levy rate at its current 95.5 percent. Carder was not present at the meeting, but participated via phone.

Opposed to keeping the current levy rate were members Shane Mallett and Gary Kestner, who believe the rate should be lowered by 0.5 percent, to 95 percent.

Monday’s vote only dealt with accepting the rate schedule, not setting the rates. The board will set the actual levy rate at 8 a.m. April 15.

The five-year excess levy, which has generated about $10 million annually for the district since 2009 for operating expenses, is anticipated to bring in about $13 million in the coming year. The levy is up for renewal during the May 13 primary election.

By leaving the levy rate the same, Jorden, Carder and Koegler said Ohio County Schools could overcome an expected $2.2 million hole in the coming school year’s budget – $1.3 million less in state funding and an additional $900,000 in spending. All three said they would consider lowering the rate next year.

For Mallett and Kestner, reducing the levy rate by a half-percent would be a show of good faith to the taxpayers.

“It’s a small amount, but it would be a tax benefit to residents,” Mallett said. “We appreciate what they do for the school district, and to return a little back to them is in the best interests of everyone.”

Kestner added he would like the amount dropped “just to show we are concerned about the needs” of the taxpayer.

Hoffman discussed the increase in property taxes, noting the county’s tax base has risen due to the natural gas boom throughout the region. She estimates the levy would bring in $12,999,854 next year.

Jorden asked business manager Steven Bieniek how much the annual property owner would save on their taxes if the school district lowered the levy rate by .5 percent. Bieniek said based on an average home value of $150,000, a taxpayer would save about $5 annually.

Jorden also suggested any excess levy revenue left over – estimated at about $344,000 – be placed into the district’s permanent improvement fund for future projects such as roof repairs.