Now that levies for their respective entities have been defeated twice, and both worse than the time before, Jared Warner and Ted Downing say they are not sure where they go from here.
Warner, the Highland County health commissioner, saw an 0.5-mill health department replacement levy that would have only cost property owners about 30 cents per day for each $100,000 of valuation, turned down by an unofficial total of 997 to 710 during Tuesday’s special election. Last November, the same levy was narrowly defeated, 6,697 to 6,625.
Downing, superintendent of the Bright Local School District, saw a 3-mill permanent improvement levy that would have been for five years rather than permanent like it was last year, defeated 202 to 99. Last November it was defeated by a more narrow margin of 997 to 710.
Both spoke candidly Wednesday about their options.
“I had a chance to talk to a lot of people the last few months and I hadn’t heard a lot negative about it,” Warner said. “I’m not sure what we’re not doing that we should be doing, or if the (the voters) just hate taxes. I thought our levy had a good chance of getting passed, especially with the amount of money we’re talking about. When you put your heart and soul in your job, it’s hard not to take it personally.”
A current levy for the health department has been in place since 1989. It produces roughly $200,000 annually. The new levy would have produced about $361,000 annually, or would have cost the owner of a property valued at $100,000 about 10 cents more per week than the current levy, Warner said.
He said increasing vaccine costs, and rising health insurance prices and contract service expenses have caused the health department to operate at a loss since pretty much since 2013.
Warner said that in an effort to keep the health department’s budget balanced, it has eliminated some positions and combined others. He said staff overtime has been reduced by 40 percent since 2015, and that quality improvement measures have been implemented to increase efficiency.
The health department has a board meeting on May 21 and Warner said the main topic of conversation will likely be what to do now, and whether or not to place the issue on the November General Election ballot.
“At this point we have to plan on it not passing in November, and where to come up with $160,000 because I don’t know what else to cut unless we cut the services we offer,” Warner said. “We struggle to pay our bills now.”
The Bright Local School District has made numerous improvements over the last three years. But those improvements have also had an impact on the district’s general fund and the school board’s ability to continue to make improvements.
I”m very disappointed in the fact that we changed the amount of the levy (permanent to five years) and didn’t try to drive it down anybody’s throat,” Downing said. “The fact is, people don’t realize we have needs. But we’ll deal with it and move on.”
The superintendent said he was also disappointed with voter turnout in the special election after 700-plus district residents voted for the levy in November.
“I think a lot of stuff depends now on the solar projects, so if that’s the issue, let’s wait and see,” Downing said.
There has been much discussion about two solar projects proposed for the Bright Local area that could produce a large amount of revenue for the school district. But Downing said no one knows for sure if they will become reality, and even if they do, it could be several years before the school district benefits from them.
Downing said the Bright Local School Board meets next week and that he’s sure the levy issue will be discussed. But he said he has no idea what direction the board might lean toward.
“A lot of this depends on what people value in education,” Downing said. “It doesn’t mean we’re gonna quit or not keep doing what’s right for the kids. The voters spoke and we’ll deal with it.”
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522.