Northwestern levy ballot language may have led to defeat

The school district had two levies on Tuesday’s ballot — one labeled as a renewal and the second as a substitute. The renewal passed but the substitute failed.

“You’re always concerned that the voters will have the right information,” said Jessie Steiner, Northwestern’s first-year superintendent. “At this point were not really sure why voters said ‘no’ to the levy.”

Northwestern’s was the only levy out of 16 Miami Valley school tax issues to fail.

The new levy would have generated nearly $1.7 million for the district, Steiner said, which is a continuation of money from two emergencies levies voters passed in 2010.

That money supports 11 percent of the district’s operating costs, and if it does not pass in the near future the school will have to consider making staff and programs cuts, he added.

“We had heard there was some confusion because essentially both the levies were renewals, but yet were not allowed to say renewal in the ballot language,” Steiner said.

The district plans to put the substitute levy on the next ballot in March 2016, the superintendent said.

Renewal and substitute levies are similar. Neither raise the amount an individual taxpayer pays to the school district. But a substitute levy accommodates for growth of possible new households in a district, according to Ohio tax codes.

If a renewal levy is passed it generates the same amount of tax revenue for the district as the existing levy did. So if a developer builds new homes in the community and property values go up, then an individual’s tax rate goes down.

The difference with a substitute levy is that taxpayers pay the same tax rate each year — including any new construction or homeowners. That means the district gets an increase in taxes.

Some voters do not think this message was relayed properly to people who live in the school district.

“Sometimes terminology or language of things can be confusing,” said Natalie Driscoll, whose daughter goes to Northwestern Elementary School. Driscoll said she voted “yes” for both new levies.

“I’m guessing people were comfortable with the term ‘renewal’ and not as comfortable with the term ‘substitute.’ But there weren’t any new taxes involved with either of them, so it’s unfortunate for the schools that the second levy didn’t pass,” she said.

No parent wants to hear their school might have to cut programs or services, Driscoll said, and that is why she supports local levies.

“I think about all of the people who supported my education, and I think it’s important as adults in the community now (that) we are willing to pay that forward,” she said.

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