The general consensus among New Albany-Plain Local's finance committee members July 22 was to keep the permanent-improvement levy off November's ballot.

The general consensus among New Albany-Plain Local's finance committee members July 22 was to keep the permanent-improvement levy off November's ballot.

Twenty-four of the 70 who were asked to attend joined Superintendent Steve Castle and treasurer Brian Ramsay to discuss the three possibilities for the permanent-improvement (PI) levy fund: renew millage to the current 1.73 mills, replace millage back to the original 2 mills or allow the PI to expire.

No school board members were present.

"Tonight we have brought you back together to help us as a school district know how best to proceed," Castle said. "Since 1984, we have never been in a state where we would be having this meeting tonight with any other option except to go back to the ballot."

The PI levy currently collects $52.98 per $100,000 of assessed property value.

According to the Franklin County auditor's office, residents in Plain Township, where the average cost of a single-family home is $176,322, pay an average of $93.42 each year to the PI fund.

Residents in the village, where the average cost of a home is $571,189, pay an average of $302.62 to the PI fund each year.

Residents in the Columbus portion of the NA-PL district, where the average home price is $278,547, pay an average of $147.57.

Castle said his recommendation to the board would be to allow the levy to expire and absorb some of the expenses into the $16.4-million operating-fund carryover balance and spend down the $2-million PI-fund carryover balance.

According to information Ramsay provided at the meeting, the PI fund is estimated to have a $1.9-million unencumbered balance in 2010 and a $1-million balance in 2011 if the PI levy is allowed to expire. He estimated that the district would spend $852,153 from that fund in 2010, representing a spending freeze from 2009 but accounting for inflation.

Most participants agreed with Castle's recommendations.

"I think it's a prudent move," said Mike Covey, a former member of the larger finance committee. "I think it gives the community a much-needed tax break."

He asked administrators how needed purchases would be funded.

Castle said the district would try to spend down the $2-million PI fund carryover and leave much of the $16-million operating fund carryover in tact.

"What we are trying to do is protect that fund and not go into it for PI expenses," Castle said. "If we start dropping that fund, we have a lesser chance of making that (operating fund) last for three years."

Castle said district officials want to extend the operating-levy cycle to four years rather than the traditional three.

Laura Kohler, who recently announced her candidacy for school board, asked what PI expenditures could be funded through the operating levy.

According to Ramsay, the PI fund is used for things items as textbooks, school buses, technology and furniture.

Castle said the district isn't required to have a PI fund.

"If we don't want a PI levy or a PI fund, we don't need a PI fund," he said. "If you would survey districts, many of them don't have PI funds because much of the cost is absorbed into operations and bonds. Millage would have to increase in one or both of those funds."

He said that is an option the board could choose to pursue prior to the next operating levy, which currently is slated for either 2012 or 2013.

Harlan Louis, another member of the committee, said he thought it would be inconsistent with previous information to let the levy expire.

"It was tough economic times in November," he said. "We said (during finance committee meetings last summer) we were willing to pay this much extra. There wasn't any type of promise the PI would be rolled back."

Everett Gallagher, a former member of the finance committee, who was not in favor of increasing the operating fund millage, said he thinks the PI decision should be put into context.

"When the finance committee met last summer, the carryover surplus was $10.2-million," he said. "We are over $6-million higher than what was in the model we looked at. We ended up with a lot more, and I think the people voted on that. I think it is a different context we are looking at today, and I think people need to be cognizant of that."

He said he didn't think the PI levy should go before voters.

"Having looked at the data in the large cash balance, I think it would not be wise to put the levy on the November ballot," Gallagher said. "To put the levy on the ballot, we are only padding the school's coffers in a time of economic distress."

gmartineau@thisweeknews.com