As local voters prepare to weigh in May 2 on a proposed 3-mill permanent improvement levy for the Pickerington Local School District, supporters and opponents of the issue are lining up.
Issue 7 is a "permanent improvement" levy that would generate approximately $3.6 million in annual revenue to be used by the district for maintenance of current facilities, technology infrastructure, safety and security improvements and upgrades to district athletics facilities.
It would cost property owners $105 per $100,000 in home valuation each year.
According to school district officials and the pro-levy group Vote for Pick Kids, the levy would provide funding for current and future facilities and equipment needs.
They've said it also could free up approximately $1 million the district spends annually on permanent improvement projects from its general operating budget, a fund typically used to pay employee salaries and for items such as student transportation, instructional support and day-to-day building operations.
"The levy is not intended to fix glaring and significant problems that currently exist in our facilities," said David Ball, the school district's public relations director. "Our schools are, by and large, in great shape.
"The key is: we want to keep them that way," Ball said.
"We have done a very good job of maintaining our facilities over the years, and it's that kind of ongoing maintenance, combined with major repairs that do come up over time, that prevent the district from getting into a situation where things are in disrepair," he said.
Issue 7 opponents include five-term Pickerington City Councilman Mike Sabatino, who said he objects to a permanent tax.
He also said he believes the district should be able to maintain its buildings, technology and other equipment through its operating budget, and projects such as construction of a new stadium at Pickerington High School Central and other athletic facilities upgrades aren't necessities.
"To me, if you vote yes on this and it passes, you've signed a blank check that can never be stopped," Sabatino said.
"I think the community would be better served if the district did a better job of deciding exactly what it wanted to do, instead of a laundry list of projects, and then they do a levy for a finite period.
"If they really want to be fair with people, they ought to come up with what project or projects they want to do, and then come up with a levy that funds that project or projects for something like 10 or 15 years."
According to school district officials, the district has identified $22.7 million in permanent improvement needs at the district's 14 buildings over the next 10 to 15 years.
The projects include $8 million in paving needs, $3.25 million to maintain or repair roofs, $7.8 million to address mechanical systems, $1.1 million in painting and carpet needs, $1.7 million for technology infrastructure and $860,000 in needed upgrades for safety and security.
That figure doesn't account for costs the district would incur to build a new stadium at Central or to bring upgrades to other athletic facilities at both high schools and other district campuses.
Vote for Pick Kids Committee Co-Chairwoman Felicia Hence said creating a designated capital projects revenue stream through Issue 7 is "the best approach to managing funds for the school system."
"It will also support such crucial items as paving, roofing and HVAC items -- things that each building will need over time in order to sustain and provide safe environments for Pickerington children," Hence said.
Hence said improvements Issue 7 would fund benefit all students and teachers in the district, and noted it would upgrade facilities that serve athletic and marching band programming.
She also said artificial turf at the stadiums would enable the district to host more outdoor events, which would bring more revenue to the district and the community.
"I am in no way downplaying the athletics aspect of this, as they are part of a well-rounded student experience," Hence said.
"Many residents in Pickerington can attest to the fact that sports enhanced the lives of their children.
"We have many Pickerington athletes who have gone on to play at the next level, collegiately and professionally.
"Pickerington deserves to have the same quality facilities as other school districts," she said.
"Financially, it's just a good investment for Pickerington overall."
Others aren't swayed.
Jim Brink, who served two terms on the Pickerington Board of Education, said he believes Issue 7 is driven primarily by the district's desire to build a new stadium at Central.
Rather than a permanent improvement levy, Brink said the district should pursue a bond issue that could fund the construction of a new stadium and be paid off over a defined period of time, such as 30 years.
Brink said the district has identified about $1.6 million in annual, non-athletic capital improvement needs over the next decade, and said a permanent improvement levy that generates $3.6 million per year could encourage "wasteful spending" by school officials.
"For the next five to 10 years, one can then easily estimate funding planned for outdoor athletic facilities at roughly $2 million per year," Brink said.
Brink also suggested passing a permanent improvement levy could compromise the district's ability to pass future operating levies.
"The district last passed a levy in August 2011," Brink said.
"If this PI levy passes, will voters support an operating levy in the next five years?
"Most district general fund revenue comes from the state, so even small changes can have a big impact," Brink said.
"What if the state makes changes to the funding formula in the next few years that cut our revenue?
"What if another recession occurs and both income tax collections and State Foundation funding declines?
"With the PI levy, the district will have the funds locked in to maintain the facilities, but perhaps not enough for the educational programming," Brink said.
"I hope this levy is defeated and the (school board) develops a more appropriate plan to provide athletic facilities, including eventually a new stadium at Central."