A new legislative proposal would allow the final votes for a November 2015 ballot issue to be cast this fall.
While Delaware County voters in 2015 overwhelmingly voted to renew a 10-year levy for the Delaware Area Career Center, an error by the county's elections board kept the issue off ballots in portions of Franklin, Marion, Morrow and Union counties served by the center. While the number of voters affected was far too low to change the result of the election, a divided Supreme Court of Ohio ruled in March the error invalidated the approval of the levy.
The loss of the 1.7-mill levy will lead the center to pause work on a $45 million project to expand and renovate its south campus off Columbus Pike in Liberty Township at the end of June.
A proposal approved by the Ohio House of Representatives in May and currently under consideration in the Ohio Senate offers a simple, yet unprecedented solution: Let the residents who live in portions of Franklin, Marion, Morrow and Union counties served by the center vote and add that total to the tally from 2015. The levy would pass by more than 9,000 votes even if all eligible voters from the surrounding counties voted against it.
Mary Beth Freeman, the career center's superintendent, said lawyers and legislators told her redoing the ballot measure for a portion of the electorate would be a first.
"There has never been a situation like this that would have (necessitated) going back to some voters," she said.
The legislation would require the ballot issue to be "substantially identical" to the issue Delaware County voters saw in 2015, including the same millage rate and term.
"It would allow those who didn't get to vote to vote and it would allow us to go forward collecting funds from a renewal levy," Freeman said.
The bill could be approved by the senate and signed by Ohio Gov. John Kasich by the end of the month, Freeman said. The legislation includes an emergency clause, which means it would take effect immediately and allow a vote in November.
Ohio Reps. Andrew Brenner (R-Powell) and Rick Carfagna (R-Genoa Township) co-sponsored the legislation.
"I want to thank my colleagues from both sides of the aisle for understanding the difference, importance and urgency of this matter," Carfagna said in a statement in May. "We're on to the senate now to stress the need to right this wrong and provide our Delaware Area Career Center with the clarity and certainty necessary to resume these construction plans."
Brenner said he thinks the proposal is a good solution.
"What we're doing is we're saying those residents will be eligible to vote as if it is a renewal (levy) and not a replacement," he said. "That way we keep the 12.5 percent rollback."
Brenner said the rollback would be lost if the DACC were forced to seek a new levy.
If the bill does not pass, Freeman said the career center's board will have to put a new levy attempt on the ballot in all its member counties.
While a successful outcome would be guaranteed if the bill passes, Freeman said construction would not resume at the south campus until after the election results are finalized.
"I would wait until I got a certified letter from the board of elections indicating that the levy had passed," she said.
Center officials initially planned to consolidate operations at the south campus in Liberty Township and close the north campus in Brown Township by the second semester of the 2018-19 school year. The pause in construction likely will delay the completion of the project.
After enduring months of uncertainty and legal wrangling, Freeman said she hopes legislators craft and pass legislation to prevent similar errors by elections boards from invalidating ballot issues.
"Anything that can prevent others from going through what we've gone through, I think would be a positive thing," she said.