HOWARD — The East Knox Board of Education is asking voters to approve a continuing combination levy to provide funds for the operating expenses for the school district.
This year’s operating budget is $10.3 million, approximately 67 percent of which goes toward staff salaries and benefits. Without a new revenue source, the district is looking at a budget shortfall of $200,000 by the end of the current school year and the deficit is expected to grow to over $1.5 million in 2013-14. Because of that projected deficit, the district has been placed under fiscal caution by the Ohio Department of Education.
The proposed levy includes an earned income tax in the amount of 0.75 percent and a property tax in the amount of 2.92 mills. The combination levy, which will bring in about $1.7 million annually, was chosen in hopes of being as fair as possible to the community by easing the property tax burden on district residents, according to board president Renee McDaniel.
Treasurer Jessi Busenburg said for someone who makes $10 an hour, the income tax will cost 7.5 cents per hour worked. Someone earning $25,000 a year would pay an annual school income tax of $187. If the levy is passed, property owners with a home valued at $100,000 would pay an additional tax of approximately $92. [Residents can find an estimate of their tax by accessing the Knox County Property Tax Estimator available through the county auditor’s website.]
Plus, McDonald said, senior citizens will benefit: The earned income tax applies only to earned income. It does not apply to Social Security benefits, disability and survivor benefits, railroad retirement benefits, welfare benefits, child support or workers’ compensation benefits.
If passed, the levy will be permanent, which means the school board won’t have to ask for money every two, three or five years. Superintendent Steve Larcomb said the continuing option should allow the board to more efficiently manage the district’s resources. “Rather than have to guess what your budget is going to look like every three or five years,” he said, “this will provide more permanency in being able to forecast future income down the road.”
In an effort to avoid deficit spending, the school district has taken substantial cost reduction measures in the past three years to the tune of more than $1.5 million. It has frozen salaries, eliminated numerous positions, reduced programs and reinstated school fees.
“Unfortunately,” said Busenburg, “at the same time we have lost funding due to open-enrollment, community school enrollment and state funding reductions. These losses have off-set the total budget reductions.”
Busenburg said East Knox lost nearly $450,000 in state funding this year alone and, for the 2012-13 school year, lost an additional $172,000 in federal funding. Last school year, the district lost $1,417,834 to open enrollment and $344,217 to community schools.
“The state is taking money away from us in an effort to balance their own budget and put the onus of their deficit on school districts and local governments,” said Larcomb. “We’re all really suffering this together and the state wants us to believe they have balanced the budget when all they have really done is transferred their responsibility. ... The bad part is, we’re all in the same boat. Schools only have the choice of going to the taxpayers with hat in hand. It’s never fun to have to go ask for money. It’s even less fun when you have to beg for it.”
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