West Branch voters will determine levy fate

BELOIT – West Branch residents will be deciding on a .75 percent continuing income tax on Nov. 5.

The school board is asking voters to approve the levy to generate $1,954,316 annually- $262.50 per year for a resident with an adjusted gross income of $35,000.

According to schools Superintendent Dr. Scott Weingart, the board is pursuing a traditional income tax, which affects all residents’ income as well as income generated by estate inheritance. He noted that the levy only taxes the income generated by the inheritance and not the inheritance itself.

Weingart also explained that the board is pursuing a continuing income tax rather than a five-year one because it felt it to be in the best interest of the district not to be in a situation where the levy can fail a renewal. He said that the levy can be removed or lowered by the board if the .75 percent is no longer needed.

“The [board] really wrestled with what type of tax and the length of the tax,” he said. “They felt that an income tax that is spread among all residents of the district, whether they rent or own property, is a fairer tax than the traditional property millage, which only affects property owners.”

The district last passed a levy for additional operating dollars in 1997. Weingart noted that the district currently operates at the lowest tax level permitted by the state to still receive state funding. He explained that two-thirds of the districts revenue is from state funding, which has seen dramatic reductions. Since the district is already educating students for $1,585 per student below the state average, the income tax will still leave the district educating students below the state average.

“So we are really asking for the additional revenue to replace the lost revenue from the state and just to allow us to maintain the educational programs that we have,” he said.

The district is projected to enter a deficit during the 2015-2016 school year despite a series of reductions in staffing, a pay freeze for all employees and reductions in operating budgets. Weingart said in the past two years that the district has eliminated a number of positions and reduced expenses to try to address the situation, as well as a complete pay freeze for employees since 2012-2013. Additionally enrollment is decreasing, reducing the amount of state funding the district receives and offsetting the revenue generated by open enrollment, he said.

“The question of this election is what kind of school district you want for our students and for the community,” Weingart said. “West Branch schools are a great source of pride for the community…good schools make for good communities.”

Weingart noted that of 600 school districts in the state, nearly 200 are on the ballot next month.