Soil and water district withdraws levy
The Licking County Soil and Water Conservation District withdrew its 0.1-mill, five-year levy from the November ballot last week after the organization was slammed with $34,857 in elections board chargeback fees following its failed attempt for a similar levy last November.
"It hit us like a ton of bricks," program administrator Jim Kiracofe said. "We were the only countywide issue, so our portion was a whole lot more."
He said the Licking County Board of Elections had a total of $133,413 in chargeback fees for the 2011 election for such expenses as paying poll workers and printing and distributing absentee ballots, among other expenses.
Kiracofe said he was unaware that the conservation district would be responsible for so much of the chargeback expenses since it had the only countywide issue on the ballot and no one at the board of elections warned him about the chargeback.
"We were never told in the fall that there were permissible chargeback fees," he said.
Kiracofe said the conservation district's strategy was to place its levy on the ballot several times until county voters became familiar enough with it to approve it. He said placing the levy on this November's ballot would cost the district between $5,000 and $10,000, and the district can't afford it after paying almost $35,000 for last year.
Also, Kiracofe predicted the levy request would be rejected again in November.
"We could easily be back in the same situation we're in now," he said.
Kiracofe said another levy attempt will likely have to wait until 2014 because chargebacks are significantly lower in even-numbered years. And if the levy were approved, any chargeback fees would be pulled from the revenue the levy generates and would not come out of the organization's budget.
He said the district needs to educate residents about the levy before the next attempt, because trying to raise awareness through multiple ballot attempts has not worked. In 2011, the 0.1-mill levy request failed 31,576 votes against to 20,547 for it, or 60.58 percent to 39.42 percent. It would have generated $370,000 per year for five years and cost $3.06 per year for every $100,000 of assessed property valuation.
"It was a huge learning curve," Kiracofe said. "We thought we asked the right questions."
Licking County Commissioner Tim Bubb said the commissioners officially withdrew the levy from the ballot Sept. 6 per the conservation district's request, one day before the board of elections' Sept. 7 deadline.
He said he doubts the county can do anything to assist the district with the chargeback.
"It was their cost to run a countywide levy," Bubb said. "We can certainly consider a request, but the downside for the commissioners is if we refund the chargeback cost to any entity that brings an issue that turns out to be unsuccessful, it would be a precedent that would be very hard to live with. There is always a cost risk to bringing a countywide levy."
Bubb said the commissioners urged Licking County Board of Elections director Sue Penick to provide each entity coming forward with a levy request with information explaining potential cost chargebacks.
"We believe any entity coming forward needs to know the full financial implications of a ballot issue because you can never assume success," he said. "However, we do not run the (board of elections); we just offered this as a suggestion."
Penick said methods of clarifying the chargeback process are being considered.
"The board's looking at it," she said.
Kiracofe is unsure of the conservation district's next move.
"There are opportunities," he said. "I just don't know what they are yet."