GREEN TWP., OHIO - The leader of the SouthWest Cincinnati Tea Party said he was surprised that his group voted overwhelmingly to endorse the Oak Hills School levy on Tuesday's ballot.
But not so much.
The same group endorsed the Delhi Township Paramedic and Fire Service Levy a few weeks earlier – and for the same reasons.
"When you hear ‘Tea Party,' you think of everybody saying, ‘No taxes! No taxes! No taxes!' But if it's limited government operating efficiently, we'll back it," George Brunemann said of his group of 400+ tax hawks.
The Oak Hills levy is on the ballot in Delhi and Green townships. The 4.82-mill, five-year levy would raise $5.25 million annually and cost the owner of a $100,000 home an additional $145.34 per year, the Hamilton County auditor's office says.
In endorsing Oak Hills, Brunemann, of Green Township, said his group recognized the district's long state rating of "Excellent," its low per-student expenditure of $9,652 (third lowest among 22 districts in Hamilton County) and its low property tax benefit (also third lowest). He noted that Oak Hills had not had a levy since 1997, although it did slip through an unvoted tax increase of 3.79 mills in 2007.
He said their financial review of the district showed a clear need: reductions in property values and state funding had lowered revenue by $6.3 million (8%) since fiscal year 2010. And even after the district cut spending by $5.3 million in fiscal year 2012, expenses still outpaced revenue by more than $1 million.
"We saw that Oak Hills had tightened its belt. But things weren't getting much better, especially with the reduction in funding from Columbus. So we decided to support them with the caveat that we‘ll be watching to see that they continue to operate efficiently and limit spending," said Brunemann, who says he has no ties to Oak Hills except paying taxes.
He said his group was impressed by Oak Hills Superintendent Todd Yohey.
"He's doing a lot of good things, like using Google apps instead of Microsoft Office. That's saving a lot of money," Brunemann said.
Oak Hills needs the levy to maintain existing services at the district's nine schools and no additional services are planned, district treasurer Ronda Johnson said. She said cuts would be necessary if it fails, but she added that the school board had not drawn up a cut list yet. Johnson said the district wanted "to run a positive campaign, not a threatening one."
"When you think of things that get cut out first, what do you think of? Transportation, buses – well, Oak Hills hasn't transported anyone within two miles for 40 years. Our athletics are mostly funded by boosters and parents, so we couldn't make up much there. We wanted to campaign on the continued stewardship of excellent schools," Johnson said.
The 1.75-mill, five-year Delhi fire levy would prevent the closing of the Rapid Run firehouse and reduced hours at the Greenwell firehouse, Delhi Administrator Pete Landrum said. Failure of the levy would mean longer response times, he said.
The levy would cost the owner of a $100,000 house an additional $52.77 per year, the county auditor said. It would generate $815,361 a year and maintain existing services, Landrum said.
Brunemann pointed out that the previous fire levy in 2005 was proposed to last five years and was stretched to eight years through cuts and other cost management.
"Fire Chief William Zoz was very open during our discussions and is looking for savings through shared resources, pooled purchasing and every other avenue we were able to suggest," Brunemann said. "We commend Chief Zoz on his stewardship of the taxpayer resources."
Brunemann said he recognizes that the extra taxes could be a hardship to some.
"When you look at your property tax bill, one-half to two-thirds of it goes to the schools, depending on where you live," he noted.
In the case of the Delhi fire levy, "paying for the levy may be cheaper that paying for a higher insurance premium," he said. "Delhi has a 2 rating – highest in the state – but they projected it as a 4 if they have to cut shifts. That would make the rates go up."
The SouthWest Cincinnati Tea party could have made it 3-for-3 by endorsing the Delhi parks and recreation levy, but it passed on it.
"We didn't take a position on the parks because it didn't fall within limited government. To the Tea Party, limited government is providing safety, schools and streets. Our attitude is, if you want good parks and you're willing to pay for them, go ahead and vote for it," Brunemann said.
Delhi's 0.75-mill park levy would cost the owner of a $100,000 house an extra $22.61 per year. It would raise an estimated $349,440 a year and cover services for 10 years, the township said. If it fails, walking trails and the spray park would close, fees for the Lodge and Senior Community Center would increase, and other services would be reduced.
If all three levies pass, the Delhi owner of a $100,000 house would pay an extra $220.72 in taxes annually.
If you live in Hamilton County,
the auditor's website, http://www.hamiltoncountyauditor.org , has calculated levy costs for you. From the home page click on a feature called "Property Search," enter your address and select "Levy Info."
Polls are open 6:30 am to 7:30 p.m. and voters need to take a proper form of ID. You can check your polling place by visiting http://www.sos.state.oh.us/sos/elections/Voters.aspx?http://myohiovote.com/
See Oak Hills' levy presentation at http://ohlsd.us/ohlevy/
See Delhi's presentations for the township levies at http://delhi.oh.us/admin/levy.html
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