Levy Rate To Remain Same

WHEELING – The Ohio County School District’s excess levy will remain at a 95.5 percent taxation level following a vote by board of education members Tuesday morning.

Convened for a special meeting, the board voted 3-2 to set the rate at 95.5 percent for the fiscal year beginning July 1. The excess levy expires on June 30, 2015, and Ohio County voters will be asked to renew it for another five years during the May 13 primary election.

Property values have increased in Ohio County since the levy was last approved, and the measure is now expected to generate an extra $2.6 million annually for the school district at the 95.5 percent level – raising revenue from about $10 million yearly to $12.6 million. This expected increase prompted discussion among board members to reduce the levy to 95 percent.

Board President James Jorden and members Sarah Koegler and Christine Carder voted in favor of keeping the levy rate at the 95.5 percent, while Gary Kestner and Shane Mallett voted against the measure.

Jorden, Koegler and Carder also voted 3-0 by voice vote to accept the levy assessment numbers provided to the district by the Ohio County Assessor’s Office. Neither Kestner nor Mallett voiced a vote, and Jorden said their silence would be considered as abstentions.

Kestner said his objection comes as many Ohio County residents are receiving tax valuations not only on the property they own, but also on their mineral values that are expected to increase in coming years.

On the first vote, “I thought if we could lower the rate by at least by a half percent, it would provide some tax money back to taxpayers,” he said. “And on the second one – since I didn’t support the first one – I thought I should stay consistent.”

Jorden said he foresees the district needing the additional revenue to cover additional expected costs in the coming years, and he also would like to see the district place any remaining funds into a rainy day fund for permanent improvements.

He provided financial information setting the anticipated yearly increase from the tax revenue at $2,600,936, but also listing an expected reduction in annual state aid to the school district of $1,323,332. This would leave Ohio County Schools with an actual increase in revenue from the levy of $1,277,604 each year, according to Jorden.

The information also indicates the school district is expected to incur additional expenses of $933,000 annually. This would include extra costs each year of $400,000 for full-time teachers, and yearly increases in Medicaid costs of $100,000.

The amount the school district pays each year to the Ohio County Public Library is expected to increase by $57,000; utilities, $50,000; fuel, $25,000; flood insurance, $25,000; and expansion of the breakfast program in the school district, $65,000.

Additionally, the district also would like to increase its allocation for the purchase of school buses, Jorden said.

A complete school bus typically costs about $105,500, and officials would like to increase the amount spent on buses each year by $211,000.

After the $933,000 in expected added expenditures, the school district would have $344,604 remaining “in a perfect world,” according to Jorden. He suggests the money should be used to supplement the district’s permanent improvement fund.

“I’m a fiscal conservative, and I would like to see our rates reduced,” Jorden said. “But I think it’s more important we enhance our rainy day fund because of projects coming in the coming years.”