There are nine bond and levy issues on the election ballot.
By BOB JACKSON
VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Mahoning County voters will decide several bond and tax levy issues next week to fund everything from road improvements to a recreation center.
County commissioners are pinning the county's financial future on renewal of a 0.5 percent five-year sales tax, which expires at the end of this year.
Commissioner Ed Reese said it's important for people to realize that it's not a new tax. It has been in effect since 1998 and is one of two 0.5 percent sales taxes on the books. The other one expires in December 2004. Each sales tax brings in about $12 million a year.
Commissioners have tried to show voters that they're good stewards of the money, Reese said. Besides keeping up with the daily cost of operating the county, commissioners have pumped some sales tax revenue back into local communities for economic development projects.
They also use revenue to fund programs ranging from 4H to road improvements and sewer projects.
"It's set us up to be a progressive and aggressive county," Reese said.
Holding the line
But that doesn't mean the county's budget has grown fat, either. Despite having a $7 million surplus at the beginning of the year, commissioners told elected officials to hold the line financially.
They appropriated only $54.7 million in this year's budget, which is some 6 percent less than the $58.4 million spent last year.
Commissioners expect to dip into that budget reserve, cutting the cushion to about $2.5 million by the end of the year.
Reese said commissioners hope voters renew the tax in May so commissioners can more comfortably make long-term financial projections. It's hard to make solid plans when the fate of the taxes are always subject to voter approval, but that's the way voters here want it to be, Reese said.
"The people have spoken, and we have listened," he said.
Voters in the Austintown School District will be asked again to approve a 3.9-mill 26-year bond issue to raise $32 million for construction of a new junior high school and renovation of Frank Ohl Middle School. A similar bond issue was rejected by fewer than 20 votes in November.
The new junior high would replace the 86-year-old Austintown Middle School, which is in need of repair, and would be built near Fitch High School.
Money also would go toward upgrading and expanding Frank Ohl Middle School, officials have said. When that's done, more pupils would be moved to that school and the district would be reorganized, creating space for all-day kindergarten.
Also on the ballot will be a 10.2-mill 27-year bond issue to raise $21.5 million for the Jackson-Milton School District. If it passes, money will be used to construct a building to house grades kindergarten through 12.
The district would then discontinue use of its high school, built in 1913, and its elementary school, built in the early 1970s.
The new building would be on a 100-acre site near the elementary school. The site would include enough room for future expansion, a playground and athletic fields. Construction of the new building would take about a year.
The new facility would have separate wings for the high school, middle school and elementary school, with centralized library, cafeteria, gymnasium and computer lab facilities to be shared by all grade levels.
Besides the revenue generated by the levy, the state would contribute $7 million toward the cost of the project.
Canfield School District also has an issue on the ballot. Officials there are asking for passage of a five-year 6.9-mill operating levy, and they have said the district could face a deficit without the additional revenue.
If that happens, the school district's finances would be taken over by state officials, who would hold the reins until the debt is erased.
Boardman Township Park District is seeking voter approval of a 1.8-mill 30-year bond issue to raise $25 million for capital improvements, including construction of a recreation center and senior center.
Other issues on the ballot include a 3.9-mill five-year emergency levy for Poland Schools; a 2-mill four-year operating levy renewal for the Western Reserve Transit Authority; a 2-mill five-year current expense levy renewal for Poland Village; and a new 2-mill five-year police levy in Milton Township.