BELOIT- West Branch residents will again be asked to approve an income tax on the May ballot.
The school board is seeking a five-year .75 percent income tax that will generate approximately $2 million annually to address a projected deficit over $1 million in two years. If the levy passes it will take effect in January 2015. But if it fails, substantial cuts to staff and services are imminent.
On the November ballot the board asked residents to approve the same levy, but on a continuous basis, which they overwhelmingly rejected by a 53 percent margin.
According to information on the school website, the tax- a "traditional income tax"- will affect any resident with a personal or estate income. An Ohio taxable income of $35,000 equates to $262.50 per year. Social Security, as well as certain government and railroad pensions, will not be taxed.
"We hope that the voters in West Branch will see the merits of approving [the levy]," said school Superintendent Dr. Scott Weingart. "Nobody wants to be in a position of having to ask for additional operating revenue in the forms of additional taxes."
Weingart noted, however, that the need remains even though all West Branch employees have gone four years with no increase to base salary and increases in their contributions to health care premiums. He also pointed out that the teachers have agreed to further salary concessions, which they were entitled to, that amount to a savings of over $78,000 for the school district.
"The school district's costs are going up, while state support is decreasing dramatically," Weingart explained. "In order to offer the the educational package that is needed for our students to thrive and succeed, and an educational package that has earned West Branch an excellent rating for six years in a row, we need to ask the residents of West Branch to support this tax issue.
The district last passed a levy for additional operating dollars in 1997. Currently the district is operating at the lowest possible mills and educates its students at approximately 15 percent less per pupil than state average. Since 2008 the district has slashed $1 million in staffing, including 18 teachers, eight bus routes and an administrator, and has reconfigured the district to more efficiently operate the school buildings.
"Many of our neighboring districts have school district income taxes in place and have been able to maintain their academic and co-curricular programs with the assistance of this additional tax," Weingart said. "It has been over 20 years since West Branch had any additional local tax money to operate our schools. We wouldn't ask the community to support this if we did not need it."
If the levy fails, cuts will likely be imminent in programs and services such as high school and middle school athletics, band, choir, art, electives such as computers and technology, the gifted program, clubs and organizations and even daily cleaning of the buildings.
Weingart said the school board opted for the income tax because the members believed it to be fairer than the property millage, with all residents with an income paying into it instead of just property owners.
Residents are encouraged to visit the school's website, www.westbranch.k12.oh.us, call the superintendent's office at 330-938-9324 for information regarding the levy.