By Jeff Gallatin
School officials will consider proposals for two plans seeking more than $80 million in district facility improvements – including a new sixth- through 12th-grade school – as the Aug. 6 deadline for getting any proposal on the November ballot gets closer.
One proposal seeks bonds for building the new school, a performing arts center, a new athletic complex and putting more durable flooring into the new school while also including a 0.5-mill levy for repairs and maintenance of the new facilities. The other proposal only includes funds for building the new facilities and does not include the 0.5-mill maintenance levy.
District officials are considering the different options because the school board must decide how to make sure funds are specifically set aside for repairs and maintenance of the new school building. Because the state of Ohio has agreed to pay 12 percent, or nearly $9 million, of the costs of building a new facility to replace the district’s current 84-year-old middle school, the school district is required to have funds set aside for maintenance and repair. The board does have the option of not putting the 0.5-mill on the ballot, and instead can designate one-third of the current 1.45-mill permanent improvements levy for district facilities passed by voters decades ago to go toward maintenance.
At a special July 10 school board meeting, the board authorized district Treasurer Robert Matson to get specific financial figures for both amounts from the Cuyahoga County auditor’s office. Matson was scheduled to go to the auditor’s office this week to get the information. The board delayed a decision on how to handle the maintenance and repairs issue pending receipt of the additional financial information.
If district officials want to get it on the November ballot, they must get a final proposal to the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections by Aug. 6.
School board President John Lasko said the new financial information will play a major role in what the board decides to do.
“Deciding on the mechanics of the proposal is a large component of this,” he said.
Lasko noted the board asked Matson to find out if the district decides to not place a new 0.5-mill levy in the proposal and instead chooses to designate one-third of the existing permanent improvements levy for repairs and maintenance, when it must start setting aside the funds.
“We want to know whether we would have to start doing so in November if the levy passes, if we would have to do it when construction on a new building actually starts or at another time,” Lasko said. “That’s an important part of the decision.”
Matson said he would discuss that issue with district legal counsel and would have the information in time for the board’s regular monthly meeting, which was moved to July 23 from July 16 because of scheduling conflicts for board members and district officials.
At the July 10 meeting, officials said the levy would cover the basic structure of the new sixth- through 12th-grade building, an 850-seat auditorium or performing arts center, the new athletic complex, more durable terrazzo flooring and land acquisition as well preparing the site on the current middle and high school campuses, for the current estimated figure of $80,577,000.
Board members said at the July 10 meeting they understand how much they are asking in terms of money, but stated that in the end, the benefits of investing in a new building will be long-term. North Olmsted Superintendent Mike Zalar said the right plan will be the one that the community agrees on.
Based on current financial projections, Matson said if the district decides to put a levy on the November ballot, it would be a 34-year bond levy. If the board goes without adding the 0.5-mill amount to a proposed levy and opts to use a portion of the already established permanent continuing improvements levy, it would be 5.45 mills, which would cost the owner of a $100,000 home $190.50 annually. Matson said Cuyahoga County figures show the average home in North Olmsted right now is valued at $124,900, and a 5.45-mill levy would cost its homeowner $238.34 annually.
If the board decides to add a half-mill levy to the issue to meet the state requirement, it would up the ballot issue to 5.95 mills and cost the owner of a $100,000 home an additional $17.50 on top of the $190.50 annually. The owner of a $124,900 home would pay an additional $21.81 on top of the $238.84 annually.
Matson also noted that people 65 or older who qualify for the homestead exemption would see a decrease of $47.68 in their levy amount.
(Intern Emily McIntyre contributed to this story)