With a permanent improvement levy slated for the Nov. 6 general election ballot, Bright Local Schools administrators say they are concerned that a proposed solar energy project may have some of the school district’s residents feeling the district does not need the extra funds.
AEP Ohio has filed a proposal with the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio to support the development of two solar facilities expected to generate $6.7 million in local tax revenue over the next 20 years, according to a news release.
But Bright Local Superintendent Ted Downing said Tuesday that no one has told the school district whether or not it will receive any money from the solar projects, or when it might be coming.
“One of our big concerns is that there are a lot rumors out there saying we’re going to get a lot of money from the solar companies,” Downing said. “At this point in time we’ve had no conversation with them. We’re hopeful that at some point in time we may get some, but we don’t know how much or how little. That could be three to four years down the road and we have some immediate needs.”
The AEP news release, issued in late September, says one facility will be 300 megawatts and the other will be 100 megawatts. Both projects are expected to be operational by the end of 2021 pending regulatory approval, the news release said.
Highland County Commissioner Jeff Duncan told The Times-Gazette in September he has been told one of the facilities is planned for U.S. Route 62 south of the Old Y restaurant, and the other may be in the Mowrystown area.
“They’re still in the stages of trying to talk to the landowners and get land secured for that facility,” Duncan said at the time.
Downing said Bright Local has spent a lot money out of its general fund over the last three years to take care of various needs.
“But we can no longer continue down that path,” he said. “We are very frugal and efficient with our money, but you can only go so far without reaching into your main fund.”
If approved, the new 3-mill property tax levy would become effective in January of 2019 and would cost property owners $105 annually for each $100,000 of property evaluation, Treasurer Randy Drewyor previously said.
Drewyor said Tuesday that if passed, the levy would produce about $210,000 annually for the school district. He said that money could only be used for permanent improvements.
A 0.5-mill levy that was passed back in 1976 will expire in late 2020, Drewyor said. When that happens, if the new levy is passed, property owners would then only pay $87.50 annually per each $100,000 of property evaluation.
The proposed issue is a continuous levy, meaning it would remain in place permanently, unless another issue is placed on a future ballot to rescind it.
Downing said that if the new levy passes, then the school district receives tax funds from the solar peojects, the school board could vote to rescind part or all of the levy.
Three public meetings remain prior to the general election to explain the levy. Those meetings are scheduled for 7-8 p.m. Monday, Oct. 29 at the store in Carmel; 7-8 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 30 at the Belfast Methodist Church; and 9-10:30 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 3 at the Old Y Restaurant. Other public meetings have already been held.
Downing and Drewyor said anyone who can’t attend the meetings but would still like more information can call them at 937-442-3114, or levy committee chairman Steve Emery at 740-572-3068.
Bright Local officials have said levy funds could be used to pay for security in the school district, technology, building repairs, buses and additional parking at both school campuses in Mowrystown and Sugartree Ridge, among other improvements. A track facility is a possiblility, officials said.
More specifically, Drewyor previously said, the district would like to improve security at all entrances to the district’s buildings, potentially place barricades inside doors, and be able to replace buses more often. He said the district’s buses are accumulating lots of miles, and the district can only afford to replace one bus every three years. He said the district would like to replace at least one bus every other year.
“The buildings are getting older. Even the elementary is almost 20 years old,” Drewyor said. “We have to look at replacing flooring, technology and things like roof maintenance.”
Drewyor also emphasized that the district is not threatening to make any cuts at this time if the levy does not pass.
“We’ll just have to make some tough decisions on maintenance and what to replace and not to replace,” he said. Those decisions will become even tougher when the former levy expires, he said.
According to school officials, over the last three years the district has made the following improvements: installed new LED lighting that reduced electric bills; air-conditioned the band area and the ag hallway in the high school building; resurfaced parking lots at both buildings; put a new roof on part of the high school; revitalized the high school gym with a new floor, bleachers and air-conditioning; replaced boilers and chillers at both buildings to make them more energy efficient and stave off future emergency repairs; placed state-of-the-art computer labs in both buildings; added six Chromebook carts; implemented one-to-one technology at the high school; installed interactive white boards in high school classrooms; added more than 80 security cameras at the high school and more than 50 cameras at the elementary; installed keyless entry systems at both buildings for security; trained and armed staff in both buildings; installed a new batting facility for baseball and softball; added a free breakfast for students in grades pre K-12; and improved lunch menus.
“We’re in good shape right now, but what we don’t have is funds for the big items we need,” Downing said. “We’re doing everything we can on our end, with help from the board, but we need help from the community for the health of the school district and for the kids’ sake.”
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522.