West Branch board prepares to try again on .5% income tax

BELOIT — The West Branch school board Thursday night took the first step toward placing on the May ballot the same earned income tax that residents rejected in November.

The board unanimously approved a resolution of necessity for an earned income tax levy that would generate $850,000 annually. It will be sent to the county auditor’s office to certify the percentage then the board will have to decide at its Jan. 31 meeting whether to place it on the ballot. The board must submit the issue to the board of elections by Feb. 6 if it wants to place it on the May ballot.

Schools Treasurer David Drawl said he expects the percentage to remain at the .5 percent that was on the November ballot. He noted, however, that the auditor rounds percentages up by quarter percents, so with the district’s $850,000 request falling between .25 percent and .5 percent, it is rounded up to the half percent, meaning the district will actually collect nearer to $1 million.

If the board places the levy on the May ballot and residents approve it, the district will begin collecting on the tax on July 1, Drawl said.

Board members reminded residents, though, that the levy attempt is being considered with the understanding that cuts in the budget will still be required.

“But we want to go with the least amount needed (from residents),” board member Karen Rice said.

Residents in November rejected the .5 percent income tax levy with approximately 59 percent of voters saying no.

The levy would have generated $850,000 annually for five years to help avoid an operating deficit predicted in the district’s five-year financial forecast. The operating deficit is projected to lead to a cash balance deficit of $753,00 in the fourth year and over $1.8 million in the fifth.

With the failure of the levy, the board has instituted state minimum busing (eliminating transportation for all high school students, students living within 2 miles of their assigned school and all open enrollment students) and athletic participation fees for the spring semester.

Further reductions in staff for 2019-2020 based on a performance audit competed by the state auditor’s office in July 2017 that schools Superintendent Timothy Saxton recommended prior to the November failure include two administrative and/or supervisory positions ($123,000), one technology staff position ($59,200), six bus routes/drivers ($189,000), six teaching positions ($273,000), one psychologist and one speech pathologist position ($163,900) and one guidance counselor position ($52,000) for a total of $860,100.

Saxton noted at the time that the district has already reduced personnel by 13 positions and eliminated the building aide positions through attrition and reduction in force, as well as suspended the bus purchasing program, based on the audit’s findings.

The board also considered a resolution of necessity for a property tax that would have requested the auditor to certify the amount generated by 3.3 mills for five years, which schools Superintendent Timothy Saxton said after the meeting was expected to generate $850,000. The resolution received a motion by board President Mikki Kanagy but failed to receive a second, meaning the resolution did not make it to a vote and died with no action.

Rice said it would be the board did not need to spend extra time and money on the resolution for a property tax if other board members were in favor of the earned income tax like herself, and the other board members agreed.




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