BELLAIRE - A resounding defeat Tuesday will not keep Bellaire Local School District officials from appealing to voters again in November as they seek to pass a 12.9-mill levy that may be the key to the district's financial recovery.
Village residents also declined a 5-mill levy that would have helped resolved budget concerns within the police department. Fewer than 30 percent of registered voters in the community turned out to cast ballots Tuesday. Of those who did, 464 voted against the measure while 348 voted for it.
Residents of the school district roundly rejected the 12.9-mill emergency levy on Election Day with 1,753 voting against it and only 616 casting ballots in favor, according to unofficial vote totals from the Belmont County Board of Elections.
Photo by Scott McCloskey
Voters in the Bellaire Local School District rejected officials’ request for a 12.9-mill emergency levy. An operating levy for the village’s police department also was voted down.
The levy had been described as a vital component of the school district's financial recovery plan. In December, the Ohio Auditor's Office declared the district was in "Fiscal Emergency" after the district failed to come up with a viable plan to eliminate a projected budget deficit of more than $3 million.
Since then, the school district has made several cuts, including the elimination of 15 teaching positions. The school district is also overhauling its food services department, which made up about $700,000 of the debt. The district also found ways to cut $200,000 in spending on supplies and materials.
With the defeat of the levy, district Superintendent Tony Scott said he will go back to the board of education and likely will seek to have the 12.9-mill levy put on the November general election ballot.
"People are probably going to say we're crazy for going back with it being defeated 3 to 1, but the idea would be to work through the process with the (Bellaire Financial Planning and Supervision Commission) and find our way out of debt," Scott said.
The commission was put in place by the state to act as an oversight body regarding financial decisions made by the board of education and to help the district get out of "Fiscal Emergency."
Scott said one of the factor that may have hurt the levy's chance of passage was the limited amount of time the school district had to promote it.
"There was a lot of information for the community to digest in a short amount of time," Scott said. "When you think about the fact that we were in 'Fiscal Emergency' in January and then the board decides to put a levy on the ballot in the middle of February, it really doesn't give you a lot of time to strategically put a campaign together. So the way I way I look at it, this whole first step is increasing awareness of our situation. We are going to have to work with our community and get our parents more involved in the election and get this thing turned around."
He also said he doubts the defeat of the levy will lead to any additional cuts, other than cuts that were already planned for the May board meeting when the board is expected to make a reduction in the number of classified, or non-teaching, staff as part of the fiscal recovery plan.
The school district has borrowed money from the state's solvency fund to keep the schools operational through the end of the school year.
Budget problems within the police department, meanwhile, in April led to the department ending its practice of having a desk officer working the dispatch desk. The change means that all calls to the police department, including non-emergency calls, are now handled in St. Clairsville by Belmont County 911 Central Dispatch.
The doors to the police station are locked 24 hours a day. The department also reorganized it's schedule to reduce the number of part-time officers.
Police Chief Michael P. Kovalyk said the 5-mill levy would have helped prevent further cuts to the department.