Tuesday, June 18, 2002

Schools' levy is lowered 1 mill

By Dan Klepal, dklepal@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The Hamilton County Budget Commission reduced the Princeton School District's levy by 1 mill earlier this month because the district has nearly $19 million in the bank.

        School district officials have appealed that decision to the Board of Tax Appeals in Columbus. If the reduction stands, it will mean a savings of about $25.50 for the owner of a $100,000 home.

        Hamilton County Auditor Dusty Rhodes, one of three people on the budget commission, called the surplus “humongous.”

        “There was a feeling on the budget commission that they had way more than needed and way more than they planned to spend,” Mr. Rhodes said. “These school districts shouldn't be running a bank.”

        Hamilton County Treasurer Rob Goering voted with Mr. Rhodes in favor of the tax reduction. Roger Friedman, an assistant Hamilton County prosecutor, voted against the reduction.

        John Hust, attorney for the school district, said the district's budget will run a deficit this year because of the reduction. He expects a ruling on the appeal by the end of the year.

        Mr. Hust said the appeal is based, at least in part, on his belief that the budget commission does not have the authority to reduce the tax.

        “And there are some other issues we feel they failed to consider,” Mr. Hust said.

        One issue in the appeal is an $850,000 payment the school is to receive from public utilities.

        The school district budgeted for $57.3 million in tax revenues this year. Mr. Rhodes said that at the current 46.19 mills, the district will generate $58.5 million.

        The district didn't calculate the $800,000 utilities payment in its tax budget because it thinks that will first go to the state. That means it's not tax revenue.

        But Mr. Rhodes believes otherwise.

        School district Treasurer Larry McDonough said the majority of the difference between his budget and Mr. Rhodes' calculations comes from that reimbursement.

        The reduced millage could force the district to ask for an increase sooner than expected, Mr. McDonough said.

        Officials with the district have promised residents not to ask for an increase until 2006.

        “That utility money is to be reimbursed through the state of Ohio,” Mr. McDonough said. “I looked at it as coming from the Department of Education and not tax revenue.”

        The district asked for $57.3 million in tax money in its budget. The commission believes it can give the district $58.5 million and reduce the tax by 1 mill.

        Mr. McDonough said the district needs its surplus to make the levy last through 2005.

        “We will get to a point in time when expenditures exceed revenues,” Mr. McDonough said. “That surplus needs to be there to make the levy last.

        “When they start rolling back taxes, it will have an impact on the promise our board made to voters.”

        Mr. Hust said he's not sure when a hearing on the appeal will be scheduled.


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