Voters shot down a permanent-improvements levy for the Pickerington Local School District that would have raised taxes to fund building and equipment maintenance, as well as the construction of a new stadium and other athletics-facilities upgrades.

Issue 7, a 3-mill levy that would have generated $3.6 million annually, was rejected in the primary election May 2.

According to unofficial final results from the Fairfield County Board of Elections, with all precincts reporting, the levy was defeated 3,900 votes (64.4 percent) against it to 2,154 votes (35.6 percent) in favor.

“Although voters did not vote in support of this particular levy, I still firmly believe that Pickerington is highly supportive of our schools, our teachers and our students,” said Superintendent Valerie Browning-Thompson. “Pickerington schools will continue to be the heart and soul of this community, and we will continue offering the best education possible while continuing to be effective stewards of the community’s investment and trust.

“Our district will not face immediate financial difficulties because of this vote. 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.”

District officials floated the levy to create a permanent revenue stream for ongoing maintenance and upgrades — including safety and security features — for buildings and athletics facilities.

They 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 during the next 10 to 15 years.

Issue 7 would have cost property owners an additional $105 annually per $100,000 of valuation, according to the Fairfield County Auditor's Office.

During the levy campaign, Pickerington City Councilman Mike Sabatino and former Pickerington school board member Jim Brink questioned the necessity of some of the projects the levy would fund.

Opponents also said they believed the tax should be imposed for a finite period and not be permanent.

In addition to building maintenance and improvements, Issue 7 was billed by backers as a way to help pay for athletics-facilities projects.

Those projects include 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 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.

Following the May 2 defeat, Browning-Thompson said the district would continue to pay for repairs and other capital projects with a portion of the district’s operating budget, which also is used to pay for teacher salaries, instructional and pupil support, technology and transportation.

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

“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.”

Felicia Hence, co-chairwoman of the pro-Issue 7 group, Vote for Pick Kids, said she was disappointed in the outcome, and paying for capital projects through the district’s operating budget is “not a model that allows Pickerington schools to sustain both high-quality education and clean, safe, well-maintained buildings to the degree this community expects and deserves.”

“Of course, this also means our student athletes will not have the same quality sports facilities as our peer schools,” Hence said. “When families come to central Ohio looking for a community to live in and they compare Pickerington’s facilities with those of the other suburbs, we will pale in comparison. That’s unfortunate.”

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