A Trumbull County MRDD tax levy will cost $75,000.
By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Mahoning Valley school districts and communities asking residents to fund tax levies on the May 6 ballot will dig into their own pockets to pay for the special elections.
At the top of the list is the Trumbull County Board of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, which runs the Fairhaven program.
The special election will cost MRDD about $75,000 for the expense of opening 151 precincts in communities where no candidates are running in the May primary.
Where there are regularly scheduled primaries, school districts and communities there can place initiatives and tax levies on the ballot without any cost.
For example, Youngstown is asking its voters in May to allow city officials to negotiate for bulk electricity costs for residents.
That initiative will cost the city nothing because there are city council races on the May 6 ballot.
But in the school districts of Weathersfield, Howland, Liberty, South Range and Sebring, where there are no May primary races, the schools must pay for special elections. The cost is about $500 per precinct.
Today is the filing deadline to place ballot initiatives and tax levies on the May 6 ballot as well as for primary races in a number of Valley cities and villages.
For most school districts with tax proposals on the May ballot, the thought is to give themselves two chances this year -- in May and in November -- to get voters to approve the initiatives.
The Trumbull MRDD 1.5-mill, 10-year levy was initially going to be placed on the November 2002 ballot, which would have cost nothing, but county commissioners asked the agency to wait until May, said Tom Stanko, MRDD's chief financial officer.
Commissioner Michael O'Brien said they asked MRDD to wait because the county LifeLine levy for alcohol, drugs and mental health programs was on the November ballot. The levy failed.
Typically the county pays the special election expenses. But because of the county's budget crunch, the commissioners will ask MRDD to foot the bill, O'Brien said. That request will be considered by the MRDD board.
Just because the MRDD is having a special election in communities with no May primaries doesn't mean three other Trumbull districts asking their residents for tax proposals at the same time will get off free, said Norma Williams, county elections board director.
What that means
Having the MRDD levy on the ballot reduces the cost for three school districts from about $600 per precinct to about $500 per precinct, she said.
That means Howland has to pay about $12,500, Liberty has to pay about $9,000, and Weathersfield has to pay about $6,000 to ask its residents for money.
The RMI Titanium Co., whose property tax re-evaluation is largely responsible for Weathersfield's financial woes, has agreed to pay the cost of the district's special election.
In Mahoning County, the special election -- which runs about $500 per precinct -- will cost the South Range school district about $4,500, and the Sebring school district about $3,500.
Superintendents in those school districts say it would be penny-wise and pound-foolish to wait until November when the levies can be put on the ballot for free.
"The problem is we need to pay the levy and start to collect that money in January 2004," said Howard Friend, Sebring superintendent.
"The May election is a safety valve. If it fails in May, it goes on in November and we can still collect it in 2004."
James Hall, South Range superintendent, said, "If we didn't do it until November, and it failed, we're in the drink," he said.
In Campbell, city residents are being asked to approve a 3-mill, five-year tax levy to raise $220,000 annually to rehire three laid-off firefighters and one laid-off police officer.
The city lost about $160,000 annually in tax revenue when Cold Metal Products closed its doors last year, forcing the layoffs, said Mayor Jack Dill. The financially strapped city will pay $7,000 for the special election.
Hanover Township in Columbiana County will pay about $1,500 to place a 1-mill renewal levy for fire service on the May ballot.