After voters emphatically said "no" to a 3-mill, permanent-improvements levy on the May 2 primary election ballot, Pickerington Local School District officials haven't decided when -- or if -- the district should pursue new facilities and equipment funds.

Issue 7, a levy that was expected to generate $3.6 million annually for the district, was defeated 3,900 votes (64.4 percent) against it to 2,154 votes (35.6 percent) for, according to unofficial final results from the Fairfield County Board of Elections.

The levy had been designed to create a permanent revenue stream for ongoing maintenance and upgrades -- including safety and security features -- for buildings and athletics facilities.

District officials said it also would have provided funding for $22.7 million in school buildings and grounds improvements, such as roofing, paving, painting, carpeting and technology projects, identified by the district as being needed over the next 10 to 15 years.

The levy would have cost property owners an additional $105 annually per $100,000 of valuation, according to the Fairfield County Auditor's Office.

That amount, however, proved unpalatable for voters.

District spokesman David Ball said school leaders have not decided whether another levy should be pursued in the near future.

"I think it's too early to say what the school board might or might not do in the future," Ball said. "I can say there's no current proposal on the table for any future levy, we've never had discussions about what actions might be taken if the levy did not pass and nothing has been scheduled in terms of a discussion of any future activities at this point."

In addition to proposing the levy as what district leaders called a "best practice" for planning for buildings, grounds and technology needs, Issue 7 was billed by backers as a way to help pay for athletics-related projects.

Those projects included construction of a new stadium with artificial turf and an eight-lane track at Pickerington High School Central and the installation of artificial turf and other improvements in the Pickerington High School North stadium.

Other projects on the district's wish list were upgraded tennis courts at Lakeview Junior High School, a new press box and lighting at North's stadium, a "softball hub" at North and "competition baseball facilities" at Central.

Issue 7 opponents, including Pickerington City Councilman Mike Sabatino and former school board member Jim Brink, questioned the necessity of some of the projects and said the tax should be imposed for a finite period, not permanently.

"I did not like the idea of a permanent improvement levy," Brink said. "I think I would've considered a traditional bond levy for facilities where they say, 'I'm going to build this, it's going to fund that and it's going to (be collected) for a period of 30 years,' or something like that.

"I just don't think (a permanent-improvements levy) is the right way for the district to do things, especially since they have room in operations to support facilities," Brink said. "That may be different in two years, but if it is they can come back to (voters) then."

According to district administrators, the district has used an average of $1 million each year in operating funds to pay for capital projects over the past several school years.

That budget also is used to pay for teachers' salaries, instructional and pupil support, technology and transportation.

After Issue 7's defeat, Superintendent Valerie Browning-Thompson said the district would continue to pay for repairs and other capital projects with a portion of operating-fund dollars.

"Our district will not face immediate financial difficulties because of this vote," she said. "As we have communicated since placing this levy on the ballot, this was not like a traditional operating levy.

"Instead, the focus of this levy was about allowing us to more effectively plan for the future, invest in our schools and community and protect the community's existing investment for generations to come."

Browning-Thompson, who announced April 3 she will retire at the end of this school year, said the current funding arrangement isn't a solid long-range strategy.

"Of course, this continued annual siphon from operating funds to pay for capital projects will eventually be felt in the classroom, in that it diminishes the amount of funds we have for day-to-day operations," Browning-Thompson said. "For now, our district remains in good financial health, and we do not currently foresee a need for an operating levy within our existing five-year forecast."

Ball echoed those comments, noting the district is "in good shape financially."

He said in addition to pulling classroom dollars from the operations budget to fund capital projects, the district would make due with its athletics facilities.

"As for the second part of the levy -- the athletic facilities -- at this point kids will continue to play on our existing fields," Ball said.

nellis@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekNate