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Lakewood considering May levy

HEBRON – Lakewood school board members set the wheels in motion Monday night to put a levy issue on the May 8 ballot.

The board met in special session, where they voted unanimously to pursue a renewal of an existing emergency levy plus an increase designed to meet projected fiscal needs through 2010.

If another resolution is passed at the board’s regular February 14 business meeting, the 2-year renewal plus increase would appear as a single issue on the ballot.

Lakewood receives just over $2 million per year from a 5-year emergency levy approved by voters in May 2003. That levy, which is now at 5.97 mills, is scheduled to expire after tax year 2007 (collection year 2008).

Lakewood Treasurer Glenna Plaisted has projected in the district’s 5-year fiscal forecast a deficitof $3.4 million in 2010 – a down-the-road problem district officials say can be solved somewhat painlessly by adding a modest increase to the renewal levy at this time.

Another $1,011,977 would need to be generated annually, Plaisted said, in addition to the existing levy amount, to maintain the status quo at Lakewood. Though amounts have not yet been certified by the county auditor, Plaisted estimates that amount would equate to just shy of three mills. The total combined millage for the renewal and the increase, then, would probably be about 8.9.

If voters approve, the two-year renewal plus increase would not be collected until January 2009. Plaisted said the increase would be about $7 per month for the owner of a $100,000 home.

Superintendent Jay Gault said asking for the increase alongside the renewal could save the district from having to go back on the ballot with heftier millage in the future. Board President Tim Spitzer described it as “a small bite now vs. a big bite later.”

Board Member Judy White said taking action now shows the board is not “reactionary.”

“There’s never a good time,” White said. She went on to say she feels asking voters to pass an issue now that would only affect them by a few dollars a month – and that not until 2009 – would be “palatable.”

After extensive discussion, Spitzer noted that their game plan had essentially changed.

He said the board’s original intent was to put the issue on as a three-year levy and drop off the up-coming final year of the current emergency levy. Plaisted told them that plan would cost the district about $294,000 per year in state reimbursement.

An o t h e r f a c t o r i n t h e board’s decision is a proposed constitutional amendment that could appear on the November ballot to address school funding. Gault said the two-year nature of this levy issue would see the district through until they can assess how such an amendment – if passed – would affect Lakewood Local Schools.

Board member Joe Bowman said the district has followed through on its assurance to voters that they would use the funds from the 2003 levy wisely over the course of fiveyears. “We’ve done that, plus some,” he said. Board members noted that even the coming re-alignment of elementary buildings will net a savings for the district. “The current administration has saved dollars without any adverse affects on students … We have executed the original plan. This is about 2010 …”

Gault said he is confidentthe levy renewal plus increase will be approved. “We will pass it the first time because I believe we will get the right information out and listen to the public …. The need for money in 2009 and 2010 will not go away.”

Board member Connie Fought was not able to attend Monday’s special meeting.

Board members will have to pass a second resolution on Feb. 14 to get it on the May ballot. If the board takes that step, they plan to discuss naming a campaign chair and committee on February 14. The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. in the Lakewood High School library.

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