MT renewal levy on election ballot

Registered voters who live in the Miami Trace Local School District have the opportunity to vote for or against a five-year, 3.2-mill renewal tax levy that will generate $1.9 million for the district each year if approved.

This emergency operating levy will appear on the May 3 primary election ballot. Early voting began on April 5 and will run all the way until the day before the election.

A campaign committee of dedicated volunteers — the “Strong Schools, Strong Community Committee” — has taken on the task of conveying the facts about this renewal levy to the community through a number of strategies. The co-chairs of the committee — Dan Roberts and Dr. Norma Kirby — recently spoke to the Record-Herald about the significance of this levy.

Roberts was the superintendent of Miami Trace Local Schools for 11 years. A retired educator, Roberts currently serves as an education specialist for business development at SHP Leading Design, and has worked on several school levy campaigns.

Dr. Kirby spent 35 years as a Miami Trace educator. Among her professional positions during that time were principal of Milledgeville and Chaffin Elementary Schools, director of the Miami Trace Preschool, and dean of (elementary) students.

Roberts and Dr. Kirby explained that the operating levy first passed in 2002, and most recently was renewed in 2017, when it was reduced by $500,000.

“It had been $2.4 million, and we then reduced it to $1.9 million, which is the amount it will be at this election. No new taxes are involved,” said Dr. Kirby. “Miami Trace is asking for this in order to avoid an operating deficit.”

“This levy is for daily operational costs — that is the key phrase,” said Roberts. “The biggest daily operational cost by far is salary and benefits to the employees. The operations also include purchased services, which include utility costs, and materials and supplies such as curriculum resources for our students.”

Dr. Kirby explained that a frequently asked question from the community is why the levy is called an “emergency operating levy.”

“It’s called an ‘emergency levy’ because that’s what it was originally, and now that it’s a renewal, it can’t be changed,” she said. “This has alarmed some in the community…they wonder what happened to create an emergency. But it’s because the law says we can’t change the name. If we change the name, it’s a whole new levy.”

The district’s five-year forecast projects that the district will spend more than it receives (without the approval of this levy) each year through 2026. This would ultimately deplete the district’s carryover balance and prevent the district from maintaining its fiscal policies, according to the committee.

An emergency operating levy is a dollar-based levy. An estimated millage amount of 3.2 mills will be listed on the ballot. However, the millage amount can change over the five-year period of the levy in order to collect the required $1.9 million. Miami Trace will not receive any more money from this levy than it has for the past five years.

“The reason for this levy is to maintain the programming and staffing levels that have been built at Miami Trace,” Roberts said. “It is a great place to be as a student, a parent and an employee. This levy is not for construction of new buildings.”

Committee members said the new schools that now make up the Miami Trace campus did not create the need for additional monies from the taxpayers to support the district. With each of the three bond issues for the new buildings, a half-mill maintenance levy was also voter approved in order to provide for the maintenance repairs and upkeep for the buildings. The emergency operating levy does provide for the utility and personnel operations for the buildings, however the district saved money by consolidating to three school buildings on one campus. Before the centralized campus, the district operated 10 buildings throughout the county.

According to information from the Fayette County Auditor, residential property in the Miami Trace district has increased by an average of 22.77%. In an email to Miami Trace staff, the district treasurer, Debbie Black wrote: “That means if your 2020 property value was $100,000, the 2021 value is now $122,770, and your taxes will increase. HOWEVER, the school is not getting more money. The reason is because other property values have gone down.”

The average reductions of other property categories are as follows:

– Agricultural: down 12%

– Commercial: down 36.1%

– Industrial: up 5.94%

– Public Utility Personal Property: down 31.58%

“Residential and industrial properties are the only categories that went up. If you combine all property categories, the district’s property value dropped 9.58%,” wrote Black. “You’ll note that commercial and public utility properties experienced the highest decreases. Examples are the Tanger Outlet Mall (now Destination) and the Rockies Express Pipeline. Tanger’s (commercial) property value is now 93% less than it was 4 years ago. The value has been gradually decreasing since 2017, but from 2020 to 2021, it dropped 67%, and a further reduction is expected for next year. Rockies Express filed for a reduction of 45% to its value, which has already been reflected in the decrease to the above-referenced public utility property.”

Roberts said, “If we continue losing money we were getting from the pipeline and do not pass this levy, Miami Trace will certainly be overspending its budget. If that would occur, other plans would have to be made to balance the budget. About 85% or so of the budget is salary or benefits.”

The goal of the Strong Schools, Strong Community Committee is to act as a catalyst to promote the passage of this levy, Roberts said.

“Because of emerging ethics laws about what the school districts can and cannot do, grassroots individuals are needed to volunteer. The school district cannot, in any way, when it comes to materials, resources or even time, assist with this during regular school hours. It’s very different than it’s been in the past,” Roberts said.

Currently, approximately 30 individuals are volunteering their time to the committee.

“We always welcome persons who are motivated and want to assist in any way they can,” Roberts said. “We have different strategic committees we’ve incorporated, such as radio spots, social media, signage, letters to the editor, and we have a direct mailer being sent out to about 2,000 different residences. We want this to be an open, honest and transparent election. The energy level of the volunteers has been neat to watch.”

The committee is currently meeting every Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at Sugar Creek Baptist Church Christian Center, 3263 Old US 35 in Washington Court House.

When asked why she decided to volunteer her time for this campaign, Kirby said, “Quite simply, I love Miami Trace. I spent my entire career there, and I’m proud of what they have and they’ve become. I love learning and education, and I want to support it. What it comes down to really is, we care. We care about the kids, we care about the staff, we care about the parents, we care about the community. The better the schools, the better the community. It also gives me a connection back to the schools that I love.”

Roberts said he has great faith and confidence in public education.

“I’m a product of it,” he said. “I love this district. I’m so honored to be asked and to be able to give time and energy to help continue the great things they have built upon. I have the greatest respect for what Dr. Kirby has done in public education, and to be able to work side by side with her to be able to do something good for our district, it’s just wonderful. The Miami Trace Board of Education and administration are fully invested and committed to this and the importance of it.”

When asked for comment, Miami Trace Superintendent Kim Pittser wrote in an email, “The District has shown strong stewardship of taxpayers’ money, and this levy was decreased $500,000 during the last renewal in 2017. The monies generated from this renewal support district operations (personnel, purchased services, and supplies).

“Please contact the Strong Schools Strong Community Committee members or the District Office (740-335-3010) if you have any questions. We want all citizens to be fully informed and have the facts regarding this renewal levy.”

Reach Record-Herald Editor Ryan Carter at 740-313-0352.
Volunteer campaign committee explains levy’s significance

By Ryan Carter

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