Reduce School Tax Levy Rate

Voters agreed Tuesday to renew the Ohio County Schools special tax levy. In doing so some who cast ballots sent a message to the Board of Education: Reduce levy rates as soon as possible.

Unofficial returns show 4,695 voters supported renewal of the levy on Tuesday, with 1,690 opposed. That represents 73.5 percent in favor. But in 2009, the last time previously the levy was reauthorized, the vote was 2,276-436 – with 83.9 percent in favor.

In five years, the percentage of Ohio County voters agreeing the levy is needed to maintain local schools decreased dramatically. At that rate of support falling off, the levy’s years are numbered.

What changed during the five years between the 2009 vote and balloting on Tuesday? This, primarily: When Board of Education members set tax levy rates a few weeks ago, they approved a percentage that will result in collection of much more money than in the past. Higher property values in Ohio County made that possible.

Two board members, Shane Mallett and Gary Kestner, voted against the measure. Levy rates should be lowered to give property owners a break, they said.

But the three members who voted in favor of the measure cited higher operating costs for schools, along with cuts in state support. Board President James Jorden outlined that position.

On Tuesday, Jorden was up for re-election. He lost to a political newcomer, Tim Birch. Mallett also was up for re-election. He won. The third board member elected Tuesday, Christine Carder, had voted to maintain current levy rates and thus, collect more money.

After the election, Mallett said one of his priorities is to reduce the levy rate. That cannot happen for about a year.

Ohio County schools need the special levy. It provides about 20 percent of the school system’s funding. That is why we recommended voting in favor of it. The nearly three-fourths of voters who said yes to the levy seem to understand that.

But more than one-fourth said no – and there is reason to believe the board’s refusal to lower the levy rate was a factor.

No one is suggesting levy rates be cut to the point the school system is deprived of funding it needs. But Mallett is right. Providing some relief for taxpayers should be a priority for board of education members.