LORAIN — A seven-year emergency property tax levy that would raise up to $3.1 million annually for Lorain Schools is close to being placed on the November ballot.
Board of Education members Wednesday unanimously approved sending the proposal to Lorain County Auditor Mark Stewart, who will certify the mill rates for each proposal.
The three proposals are between 4.5 mills and 5.2 mills and would raise $2.9 million, $3 million, or $3.1 million annually. Board members will choose between the three at their July 26 meeting.
If approved, an emergency levy would allow Stewart to adjust the mill rate to keep collections at around $3 million should property values decrease or increase in the future, School Treasurer Dale Weber said.
The average home in Lorain is valued at about $80,000, so homeowners would pay approximately $115 to $130 more per year under the proposals.
“We have no choice but to attempt to raise more money, because we’re broke,” board member Jim Smith said.
However, with nearly $4.7 million of a projected $12 million deficit remaining, Weber said even if the levy were approved, the school district likely will declare insolvency in April. Insolvency would trigger a takeover by the Ohio Board of Education and a loss of local control and voter disenfranchisement.
A five-member state panel would control finances and likely make more cuts. Because of a shrinking local tax base, federal and state tax cuts and competition from charter schools and open enrollment, the district has been forced to lay off 182 employees during the last school year, including 93 teachers. Nine were later recalled because of retirements.
In a city decimated by deindustrialization where, according to census data, about 85 percent of the district’s 7,500 students live in poverty, voters haven’t passed a new levy since 1992. Five levies have been rejected since 2008, including an earned income tax that failed 53 percent to 47 percent in November.
Board members considered proposing a 1 percent earned income tax levy with a 2-mill property tax decrease to appear in an August special election. An Oberlin College survey of 343 registered voters in April found the hybrid tax more popular than a property tax because it only affected working people and excluded capital gains, dividends, pensions and Social Security benefits.
However, Mayor Chase Ritenauer requested that board members seek a property tax hike because his administration is seeking a 0.5 percent income tax hike in November.
Board member Tony Dimacchia reluctantly voted for the property tax. Dimacchia said he still thinks the earned income tax has a better chance of passing, but he wanted to show solidarity with fellow board members.
“The board as a whole speaks when we vote,” he said.
Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or firstname.lastname@example.org.