SUGAR GROVE – A school district that serves a handful of Hocking County students is trying once again to win renewal of an income tax levy, which district voters shot down during last November’s general election.
The Berne Union Local School District is floating a renewal of a 2% income tax that is due to expire in 2024, and that pays for the district’s current operating expenses. The tax issue will be on the ballot in the primary/special election on Tuesday, May 4.
Most of the school district is located in Fairfield County, but a small portion of it is in Hocking – according to the Hocking County Board of Elections, around 50 registered Hocking County voters reside within its boundaries. Berne Union Supt. Jon Parker said Thursday that the district has fewer 900 students, of which perhaps fewer than 5% come from Hocking County.
Because so few Hocking County residents live in the district, voting on the tax issue will be handled by Fairfield County. The district residents living in Hocking County will still get to vote on the tax, but not in person in Hocking County.
Hocking County will not actually have a primary on that date, because there are no intra-party contests lined up. According to the Hocking County Board of Elections, Hocking County voters who wish to vote on the Berne Union tax levy have the choice of either voting an absentee ballot, or if they want to vote in person on election day, voting at one of Fairfield County’s polling locations.
Berne Union put the continuing 2 percent income tax on the November 2020 general election ballot, and it was defeated. In that election, according to local elections board records, 32 of Hocking County’s 51 registered voters in the district voted, rejecting the tax measure by 18 votes to 14.
According to election results from the Fairfield County Board of Elections, voters in that county also rejected the Berne Union school income tax, by a no vote of 1,354 to 1,249.
Parker said he’s hopeful the vote will go the other way on May 4.
“We have a levy committee, and we’ve advertised and sent information home, and we feel pretty good about it this time,” he said. “It went down in the fall, but a lot of people didn’t understand what we were asking for. And generally our community has been very supportive of the schools… It’s a great little place. The school is the center of our community.”
He also stressed that the measure is only a renewal, and won’t raise anyone’s taxes if it passes.
“We’re not asking for any more money, but we do want to make it continuing,” he explained. He said the tax, which applies only to earned income – not retirement benefits, Social Security or unearned income – brings in about $2.1 million a year.
He also emphasized that while the district has a new building in the works, this is being funded from other sources; the income tax “goes straight to operating (expenses).”
If the levy fails May 4, Parker said, “We’ll go back in the fall and put it on again. We have to renew at some point.” What the district won’t do, he added, is threaten voters with the prospect of program cuts if the issue isn’t successful.
“We’re not in a position where we’re going to frighten the voters. We don’t want to play that game with our community,” Parker said. “I know a lot of school districts play that game – ‘We’re going to cut sports; we’re going to do this or that’ – but that’s not how we want to operate.”