April 17, 2014

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Oberlin may choose between levies or tax hike

OBERLIN — Voters might get the opportunity to eliminate two property tax levies for the Oberlin Schools if they agree to pay a higher income tax in November, school officials said.
The whole idea is to make the taxes more equitable and to allow property taxes to drop, Superintendent Geoffrey Andrews said Tuesday.
“Poor people are paying 10 or 11 percent of their income as local taxes while rich people pay 4 or 5 percent,” Andrews said.
Shifting the burden toward income taxes and away from property taxes could help level the playing field, the superintendent said.
He said he has been working with City Council President Daniel Gardener and city Finance Director Sal Talarico on the issue after Gardener began crunching numbers from the 2000 Census.
The question is “How can we make the burden in Oberlin more equitable?” Andrews said.
No vote by the school board was taken Tuesday night, but board members expressed interest in the plan to eliminate an 8-mill operating levy that expires in December 2008 and a 5-mill operating levy that expires in December 2010.
“We hear a lot of talk about taking the burden off the homeowner … and putting a little bit more of the burden on people who can afford it,” Board President Marci Alegant said.
Oberlin now has a 1.25 percent income tax for the schools; each additional 0.25 percentage points would bring in about $400,000, Andrews said.
Schools Treasurer Diane Wolf said she has been working with the county auditor’s office on figures, but has no firm estimate yet on how much the income tax would have to go up to make up for the two operating levies.
After the meeting, Andrews guessed that a  0.75 percent income tax increase would be needed, bringing the level to
2 percent for any resident living in the Oberlin school district, which includes Oberlin and parts of New Russia, Carlisle and Pittsfield townships.
Andrews also said that he wants to cut the size of the
1.9-mill levy that would have put a laptop in the hands of every student in the middle and high schools had it passed.
The permanent levy failed in a vote of 59 to 41 percent in May, and Andrews said he thinks the schools should seek a five-year technology levy of about 1.4 mills or 1.5 mills.
Five-year, 1-mill tech levies have twice been approved.
Andrews said the reason voters gave for voting down the larger levy in May included it being permanent and a story in The New York Times several days before the vote that was critical of other laptop programs.
Andrews said many people wanted a pilot laptop program rather than extending it at one time to students from sixth to 12th grades.
In other action Tuesday, the board voted unanimously to approve 2 percent raises for about 60 non-teaching staff for two years. If a levy passes, the staff would get slightly larger raises the second year and the contract could be extended a year, Andrews said.
Contact Cindy Leise at 329-7245 or cleise@chroniclet.com.