MORRAL — Ridgedale Local Schools officials are asking district voters to support an income tax issue when they go to the polls in March.
The Ridgedale Local board of education approved placing a 1 percent tax on earned income of individuals residing in the district on the March ballot. If approved by voters, the continuing tax would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2021, and provide about $840,000 annually to help pay for operating expenses at Ridgedale Local Schools, Treasurer Jason Fleming said.
Superintendent Bob Britton said the district leadership chose to place an income tax on the ballot after discussions with community residents.
“We did some focus groups over the last ten months, eleven months, concerning the facilities,” he said. “In the course of discussions, the topic of operating funds came up in those focus groups, and (focus group members) determined that an earned income tax would be more successful with the community as opposed to a property tax. The community felt that adding that tax burden onto the landowners wasn’t necessary.
“A lot of the conversation spun around the fact that the people actively earning income are most likely the people who have children that are in school right now,” he added. “So, they felt it might be a little more fair of a tax.”
Fleming noted that the earned income tax would not adversely affect retirees who reside in the Ridgedale Local district.
It’s been nearly 30 years since district voters approved new funding for Ridgedale Local Schools. The last time in 1992, when voters supported a 5-year, 11.9-mills levy for additional funding.
Since 1992, voters have lent their support to five renewal levies that have appeared on the ballot, but have rejected four bond issues (2001, 2002, 2013, 2014), three levies for additional funding (2004, May 2005, November 2005), two levies for emergency funding (March 2004, August 2004), a current expenses levy (2003), an income tax issue (2016), and two permanent improvements levies (2010, 2015).
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Britton said he’s spoken to some residents of the Village of Morral who are concerned about having to pay tax on their earned income to multiple entities. He said village residents are already paying a 1 percent income tax to fund infrastructure and, if they work in the City of Marion, they’re paying a 2 percent income tax.
Britton said he realizes the stress additional taxes place on residents, but noted that the state government has put public school districts in a tough situation of having to turn to local voters for funding.
“That’s where we’re at right now until the State of Ohio decides that they need to do something different to fix the funding of public education,” he said.
Britton said the district has worked to control expenses over the past decade.
“We retrofitted the lighting (fixtures) to cut down on electricity costs,” he said. “We’ve switched from fuel oil and propane to natural gas. We did that several years ago. .. We changed insurance vendors. We went from being self-funded to being in a consortium with Stark County Council of Governments. We did that, probably, ten years ago and that’s saved hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
Fleming said the district has streamlined its operations as much as possible.
“We’ve gone electronic for the purchasing process,” he said. “It saves on astronomical amounts of paper. Now, that’s not a ton of money, but it’s money. We use a vendor to help with paying different bills so we don’t have to use the stationery, we don’t have to buy stamps, we don’t have to pay for checks; at least not at the rate that we used to.
“Once we were able to become efficient in that purchasing area, we realized we were overstaffed, per se,” he added. “So, that position is operating at about half the cost of what it was before.”
According to statistics Fleming provided, Ridgedale Local Schools’ spending on salary and benefits has remained largely flat over the past eleven years. Between fiscal years (FY) 2008 and 2017, spending on salaries and benefits ranged from a low of $5,008,000 in 2008 to a high point of $5,485,386 in 2013.
The figure climbed to $6,064,590 in FY 2018 and increased again in 2019 to $6,160,062.
“Up until the time the last contract was ratified, which was 2017-2018, there was a 3 percent increase that year, a 3 percent increase the following year, and 3 percent this year,” Britton said. “But those were the first times (increases) reached anything over 1.5 percent, 2 percent.”
The deadline to register to vote in the March 17 primary election is Tuesday, Feb. 18. For information about elections in Marion County, visit the Board of Elections website marionelections.com.
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