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Voters asked to reconsider building plans

Special election is Tuesday

WL-S-levysigns

Signs line U.S. Route 68 in support of West Liberty-Salem’s proposed building levy. (EXAMINER PHOTO/NATE SMITH)

A broader base of payees and less cost to taxpayers are reasons why West Liberty-Salem school officials believe enough voters will reconsider their position and bless an initiative to remodel the district’s K-12 facility.

Tuesday, the school takes its second crack in a special election at passing a bond issue that would replace faulty, aging heating and cooling systems, upgrade school security and expand classroom space.    

WL-Salem proposes partnering with the Ohio Schools Facilities Commission to pay for the project, which costs about $33 million. Under the proposal, OSFC would pay for about $22.6 million, leaving the school district to raise the balance.

The combination bond issue WL-Salem is asking for voters to approve includes both property and income taxes.

The property tax portion of the ballot question is 27 years at an estimated 3.62 mills. It would raise $7.55 million of the $11 million local share and would tax the average West Liberty property about $140 per year.

The proposed income tax is .25 percent over 23 years, bringing in a total of $3.45 million — or about $281,101 per year. The school district has said the average income is $45,499 a year and the tax would cost $114 more annually.

That could mean up to $254 per year for the average voter, between property and income taxes.

The issue failed by about 100 votes last November, and school officials have tried to make the necessary changes to change voters’ minds.

By working with its hired architect, school officials have managed to trim about $3 million worth of local cost from their initial proposal last year. Specifically, redesigned building plans allow for modifications and expansion to the current cafeteria, without having to tear into the neighboring auxiliary gymnasium.

“We’re hoping the changes we made to the local share will entice folks,” Superintendent Kraig Hissong said. “That the tax burden isn’t solely on property owners, I think, will help.

“It’s a modest income tax, but it goes a long way toward raising the funds we need.”

School officials are also trying to get word out that passing the building levy now enables property owners to continue to make use of an expiring tax credit. The so-called “millage rollback” entitles homeowners to a 12.5 percent credit on the total gross property tax amount due.  

“That tax credit went away with the signing of a new state budget and won’t apply to levies passed beginning in November,” Mr. Hissong said. “Passing the levy now means that homeowners can still make use of that tax credit.”

The superintendent also believes that OSFC offers for similar work promise to be less generous down the road, which could mean an increased local share. The state is promising 71 percent this time. That contribution likely dips below 70 percent in the future, Mr. Hissong said.

WL-Salem schools had about 900 students when the school was built in 1988, but that figure has swelled to more than 1,200. Classrooms in the facility are about 700 square feet, while the state minimum is 900 square feet. Proposed upgrades would add about 28,000 square feet of space to the building.

The levy is the only issue on the ballot in Logan and Champaign counties.

Boards of elections in Champaign and Logan counties estimate the cost of the special election will be about $8,000. Costs to stage elections are deducted from property taxes, Mr. Hissong said.

“It comes right off the district’s tax bill,” he said.

Monroe and Union township voters will merge with Liberty Township at the Grace Chapel Church precinct in West Liberty to cast ballots for this election only.

In Champaign County, voters in Salem, Concord and Wayne townships all will vote at the Salem precinct at 1635 E. Kingscreek Road, Urbana. Precincts in Harrison and Union townships in Champaign County will be open Tuesday.       

Polls will be open between 6:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.

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