With no one except current officeholders filing petitions to run in three local-government races, the New Albany-Plain Local School District's funding request on the November ballot should take center stage for local voters.
School board members voted 5-0 on Aug. 7 to seek a 1.25-mill, five-year permanent-improvements levy in the Nov. 7 election, according to district spokesman Patrick Gallaway.
The decision to seek a permanent-improvements levy likely will affect the capital-improvements projects the district is able to afford over the next five years and the timing and amount of the next operating-levy request, district officials have said.
Meanwhile, unless any write-ins are certified in the coming weeks, candidates for six of seven seats on New Albany City Council, three of five on the New Albany-Plain Local school board and one on the Plain Township board of trustees will run unopposed.
The deadline to file a ballot issue or petition for candidacy with the Franklin County Board of Elections was Aug. 9. The district met that deadline, according to the board of elections website.
Issues and candidates should be certified Aug. 21, according to board of elections spokesman Aaron Sellers.
Not 'if' but 'when'
School board President John McClelland, who is one of the board members up for re-election, said he and his colleagues realized it ultimately was not a question of "if" but "when" the school district needed a levy.
"We believe it is the fiscally responsible thing to do to have a fund that is dedicated to the ongoing capital maintenance of the district," he said.
McClelland said collectively, the district has more than $120 million worth of facilities, and board members are focused on "prudent and responsible management of taxpayers' assets."
"This is the result of a holistic look at the district, our finances, our families -- and looking into the future to get some projection on what it will cost us to maintain these facilities," he said.
Even with a permanent-improvements levy, Gallaway said, the district would continue to budget $1.3 million from the general-revenue fund for capital repairs and replacements.
The district spends an average of $1.3 million per year from the general-revenue fund on capital improvements, but it doesn't account for all needs in the recent five-year capital-projects plan, according to documents the district has shared.
The plan estimates $12.7 million would be required over five years for capital projects, with an average annual amount of $2.5 million.
A permanent-improvements levy last was approved in 2004. The district allowed the five-year levy to expire in 2009, and its funds were depleted in 2014, according to finance director Becky Jenkins.
Voters last approved an operating levy in 2012 with Issue 50, which included a 2.59-mill bond to build the facility now known as New Albany Intermediate School and a 4.24-mill permanent operating levy to generate $3.51 million.
In November 2014, voters rejected a 6.9-mill operating levy and a 2-mill permanent-improvements levy. Both levies would have been permanent.
The district has remained off the ballot since 2014 "due to greater-than-expected revenue and planned expenditure reductions in an effort to remain off the ballot for general-fund revenue as long as possible," Jenkins said. "Superintendent (Michael) Sawyers and I worked diligently to reduce (fiscal 2017) expenditures by the board's financial goal of $560,000. Through hard work and thoughtful planning, we exceeded that goal and reduced costs by almost $1.8 million.
"We are continuing in the current fiscal year to identify additional cost savings to continue our financial-sustainability quest."
The district's fiscal years run July 1 through June 30, according to Gallaway.
'Stability and predictability'
McClelland said district leaders are committed to ensuring "the best academic and development outcomes for students."
"We want to make sure students are attending class in buildings that are well-maintained, have updated technology and allow them to have access to experiences they need to achieve their greatest potential," he said. "This is an investment we are asking the community to make.
"From a fiscal-management perspective, it would provide more stability and predictability in our general-operating budget, which I think also will have the net effect of allowing us -- when the time comes -- to ask the community for an operating levy that hopefully, we won't need to be as much because we have a dedicated fund to cover a lot of our facilities needs."
Gallaway said a 1.25-mill levy would generate approximately $1.17 million annually for five years and would be used for capital-asset repairs and replacements.
Approval of the levy would result in an annual cost of $153.13 for taxpayers with homes with a market value of $350,000, according to Jenkins. That equates to $43.75 annually per $100,000 of property value.
To put that into perspective, the district's total effective millage is 59.74, which includes inside millage (a term referring to the property taxes for which the Ohio Constitution authorizes collection without a vote) and voted-in bond and levy millage, according to figures Jenkins provided.
The district's general-fund tax revenue generated is $47 million, and the bond -- or debt -- millage is $10 million, for a total tax collection of $57 million, according to Jenkins.
Based on those figures, the owner of a home with a $350,000 market value pays approximately $6,400 annually in school-district property taxes, she said. The $6,400 estimate doesn't include any of the other central Ohio governments and agencies that collect property taxes, she said.
That amount should decrease shortly because 2.5 mills to repay bond debt is expected to come off the books at the end of December, according to Jenkins. Taxpayers with a $350,000 home valuation currently pay an annual cost of $267.97 for that 2.5 mills of debt service, she said.
"This is a unique opportunity for us to fund permanent improvements while having a net effect of little to no change for taxpayers on their tax bills," McClelland said.
He said it effectively would not be much of an increase, if any, from what property owners currently pay.
On Aug. 7, school board members also heard a presentation from representatives of the Franklin County Auditor's Office about the recent property-reappraisal process.
District leaders said they expect $126,000 in additional revenue annually due to the reappraisal, Superintendent Michael Sawyers said.
McClelland said the school board considered the reappraisal process in its decision to seek the levy.
"That's why we had (the auditor's representatives) in on Monday to provide even more insight for us on what the re-evaluation means for our taxpayers," he said.