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Village seeks levy renewal

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In addition to the presidential and other elected offices listed on the Nov. 3 ballot, local voters are being asked to decide a renewal request for the Village’s property tax levy. The levy renewal is the only local issue before Yellow Springs residents this election cycle.

The 8.4-mill, five-year levy, first adopted in 2006, generates about $835,000 annually, according to the Greene County Auditor’s Office. As a fixed-rate levy, its passage will not increase voters’ tax bill, despite the recent increase in local property values.

According to the auditor, property owners can expect to pay $219.53 annually per $100,000 in appraised property value when the new renewal collection begins in January 2022. Based upon the new average appraisal of $173,031, the typical Yellow Springs homeowner would pay $380 annually for the levy.

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The current levy concludes at the end of 2021, and the November 2020 election is the earliest that the measure could go before voters, according to County Auditor David Graham.

Village Manager Josué Salmerón said in a phone call this week that putting levy renewal requests on the ballot as early as possible gives governmental entities such as the Village time to reassess if the measure fails, and possibly go back to voters before the revenue stops coming in.

If the Village were to wait until next year, and the renewal failed, “you’ve got no choice but to cut your budget immediately,” Salmerón said.

The levy’s total revenue covers more than 20% of the Village’s general fund expenses, which, according to Village records, topped $3.6 million last year.

“It pays for everything in the general fund,” Salmerón said. “Parks and rec, including park maintenance, the youth center, the pool; streets and roads, including resurfacing and repairs; public safety, the police and Mayor’s Court; planning and zoning,” all fall under the general fund, he said.

Providing a steady source of income to the Village for nearly 15 years, the levy revenue has become integral to the general fund, Salmerón added. He won’t conjecture, however, about what services might be cut should the renewal fail.

“That kind of talk drove a wedge through the citizens,” in past elections, he said. But, he added, the community would need to have some serious discussions about what it’s willing to pay for or give up.

“Citizens are looking to their local government to be doing all that needs to be done,” he said. “But we don’t have the financial resources for that. We can’t deliver everything we’re expected to deliver in return.”

Revenues and costs

The levy is set at a fixed amount, with the millage rate determined to raise the desired income. Facing a general fund deficit of about $366,000 in 2006 — following the loss of several major industries and a related decrease in income tax revenue — Village leaders sought an annual levy amount of $743,000, initially to address the deficit and provide additional money for road maintenance. Council members said at the time that continuing levy revenues would go half toward community services, such as parks and the pool, and half for street maintenance and police and safety.

Adjustments, including revenue from new construction, brings the levy’s annual collection up to about $835,000, County Auditor Graham said in a phone call this week. Revenue from new construction is allowed to increase the total amount collected because of the demand for new services that accompanies new housing, Graham explained.

At the same time, although the levy continues to be listed at 8.4 mills, the millage number is adjusted by the county to continue drawing the original fixed amount. Given the increase in local property values, the current “effective tax rate” for the renewal levy has decreased to about 7.2 mills, according to the auditor’s office. Cost to property owners at the time of the 2016 renewal was $239 per $100,000 of appraised value, about $20 more annually than the new request.

The original levy request met with divided voter response in November 2006, passing by a single ballot after the too-close-to-call vote required a hand count by the elections board. Opposed voters quoted in the News said they were turned off by then Council’s “heavy-handedness” in voting 3–2 ahead of the election to cut community services if the measure failed; while others against the then new tax called for better fiscal stewardship, citing a Village loan of $300,000 — nearly the amount of the deficit — to the then proposed Center for Business and Education on land at the northwest juncture of Dayton-Yellow Springs and East Enon roads.

Subsequent renewal requests received much more positive responses, however, with the first renewal measure passing by about 65% in May 2011 and the next passing by more than 80% of the votes in March 2016.

The Village calculates that the levy constitutes 7.9% of property owners’ total property tax bill. According to the county auditor’s office, Village property owners pay a total of 106.18 mills in property taxes, which are divided between inside millage, which is legislated, and voter-approved millage.

The designated entities receiving property tax dollars are: various county services, including the library system, mental health, developmental disabilities, hospital and children’s services (14.45 total mills, of which 2.23 are inside millage), the health department (0.8 total mills), the Greene County Career Center (4.43 mills), Yellow Springs Schools (68.75, of which 51.8 are inside), the Village (11 mills, with 2.6 inside) and Miami Township (6.75 mills, with 2.1 inside).

The total annual bill comes to more than $2,400 per $100,000 property assessed valuation, meaning that owners of a typical Yellow Springs home valued at $173,031 are paying more than $4,000 a year in property taxes.

The Village’s portion, at about 10% including inside millage, is small comparatively, Salmerón said.

Former Council President Karen Wintrow agreed. The levy may be comparatively small, but it is also vital, Wintrow said in a phone call this week.

“It’s an important levy to fund the Village’s quality of life and the services everyone enjoys,” she said.

It’s loss would mean at least a 20% hit to the general fund. “There is no one service that could be cut,” she said.

Villager Matthew Kirk, who settled in Yellow Springs seven years ago and is a frequent attender of Council meetings, said he also supports the renewal levy.

“This is particularly crucial, given the kind of juncture we are facing right now,” Kirk said, referring to the economic downturn that is accompanying the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Communities that invested at the time [of the previous national recession] came out better than communities that did not,” he said. The levy defeat “would hamper our ability to continue making the improvements we need,” he added.

Kirk said that during his time in Yellow Springs, he’s observed the current and immediate past Council’s efforts to take care of some of what he called “deferred maintenance” within the village, including work on water lines, sewer lines and electric poles.

“I support that … especially in these times, as turbulent as they are.”

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