Ohio voters will go to the polls early this year, thanks to the presidential primary -- and that means voters in the Big Walnut Local School District will have an early opportunity to keep money flowing into the booming district.

The March 17 ballot will include a 5.45-mill operating levy to replace a levy first approved in 2010.

If approved, the levy would cost homeowners $167 annually per $100,000 of property valuation -- the same rate currently collected by the expiring levy, said Superintendent Angie Hamberg.

District treasurer Jeremy Buskirk said the March issue is a continuing substitute levy. It would allow the district to gain additional revenue from newly constructed property each year, he said.

That's important, Hamberg said, because the district's enrollment has grown 32% in the past decade.

Combined with that growth, Buskirk said, the substitute levy prevents the district from needing a higher millage rate.

He said the 2010 issue was a 7.5-mill emergency levy calculated to provide $4.9 million annually.

When it first expired, he said, it was replaced by a 2015 emergency levy at 6.9 mills that also provided $4.9 million annually.

The March issue is calculated to collect about $5.3 million a year, Buskirk said.

Hamberg said the district appreciates voters' approval of the two levies that preceded the upcoming ballot issue, which the district needs.

"We are fortunate to live in a community that supports its schools," she said.

"The support of our residents in passing this initial emergency levy in 2010 and the substitute levy in 2015 has been key in providing our students the services they need to be successful," Hamberg said.

"As we continue to grow, the community's support will be critical in our efforts to meet our mission to 'inspire and guide each student to his or her maximum potential.' "

According to the district's website, the March levy would represent about 12% of the district's current operating budget and would provide money for day-to-day operating expenses, including teachers' salaries, utilities and supplies.

The substitute levy will address the fact "our schools operate on a tight budget that only gets thinner every year because our increases in revenue are not keeping pace with the costs of new students coming into the district," according to the website.

The construction of new residences in the district increases its enrollment, Hamberg said, but residential growth alone doesn't provide a level of tax revenue that can fund all district needs.

By comparison, she said, commercial growth increases tax revenue without adding new children to the district.

Those points were emphasized by a statement from the Big Walnut school board, issued last fall, that remained at the bottom of the district's home page Feb. 5.

It was posted in response to a development proposed in Galena by Blackhawk Endeavors LLC. Brian Yeager, CEO of the Champion Cos., sent Galena officials a letter dated Nov. 8, saying the company was withdrawing the Blackhawk application to the village.

Before that happened, the school board wrote, "School districts do not court developers or seek residential, commercial or industrial development projects. ... The current trend is attracting projects that add more residents without increasing the percentage of commercial or industrial tax base.

"A 'School Impact Study' is a unicorn," the statement reads. "You will never find in a list of zoning requirements for a developer to design their project to minimize impact on a school district. There is no legal requirement for your village or township to make a decision that accounts for the impact of a project onto the school system."

Had the development been approved, the statement adds, "The district will have to decide how it can absorb the cost of this development, or ask all of the residents of the district to provide more revenue to cover the costs of this development. This dynamic is not unique to the Blackhawk project."

Hamberg emphasized the March levy's role of providing operating funds is not the same as the bond issue and levy approved in 2017.

The money generated by those issues instead is being used to construct a new elementary school and a new high school and to purchase the land that will house them, she said.

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