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Bellaire levy committee reaches out to seniors

April 20, 2011
By MICHAEL SCHULER - Times Leader Staff Writer , Times Leader

BELLAIRE With Election Day nearing, the Citizens Committee for Bellaire Schools is working to get the information out about the proposed district wide, 5-year, 1-percent earned income tax that is on the ballot.

According to the committee's chairman, Steve Shallcross, if approved, it's a tax that won't affect many seniors.

"It's a tax on only earned income and for most senior citizens, they don't have an earned income," Shallcross said.

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The school district tried twice to get a 12.9-mill emergency operating levy passed and both times, the levies were defeated by a 3-to-1 margin. The school district had considered putting an 8.9-mill levy on the ballot, but Shallcross said the school district wanted to stay away from another property tax.

In December 2009, the school district was declared to be in "fiscal emergency" by the state auditor's office after it failed to eliminate a more than $3 million budget deficit. Since then, the school district has cut more than 30 teaching positions, eliminated three principal positions and other administration positions and staff. Staff also agreed to concessions and the food service was reorganized and the district cut about $200,000 in supplies. Those cuts however did not alleviate the debt and the school district has twice had to take an advance in money from the state to help pay for the district's operations.

"The district hasn't had new operating money since 1976, while some districts have passed one or two levies since then," he said. "Our superintendent has made difficult decisions to cut waste from the district, while trying to preserve the educational opportunities for the children of our district. And despite all of the cuts, we have still received a district designation of 'excellent' for our schools."

When it comes to income taxes, the earned income tax only applies to money earned from working. Other sources of income, like savings, will not be taxed.

"There is a difference between an income tax and an earned income tax," Shallcross said. "The earned income tax means you actually have to receive a W-2 or 1099, so interest earned from CDs, or savings does not count. Passage of this will not increase anyone's real estate taxes. It's not a tax on Social Security, disability, retirement, unemployment or workers compensation."

Capital gains and income from rental property are also exempt from the tax. If voters approve the tax, it will be used to pay back the advanced money the district received from the state and make other necessary purchases.

"The senior citizens who are on fixed incomes will be protected by making sure they do not pay the tax on Social Security or retirement income," Shallcross said. "This tax will allow district to pay back the advanced funds by the state for our operation. After that is paid back, it is my understanding that we have busing issues and need some new buses. There is also a need for new computers and technology."

Then, the plan calls for the school district to start rehiring some of the positions that have been cut as a result of the district financial deficit.

Should the income tax fail at the ballot box, Shallcross said it will not mean the school district will be forced to consolidate, but could compromise programs.

"If we don't pay for the kids there now, I don't know who is going to pay for it," he said. "If you want a good education you have to pay for it. If you go out to the more affluent districts in Columbus area, they pay a lot in property taxes to get what they get and have state-of-the-art schools and programs, but they pay for it."

Superintendent Tony Scott said he is also hoping for the community's support of the tax.

"Being new to the area, I think people sometimes take for granted what they have," said Scott. "Bellaire Schools is a pretty special place and people don't like paying taxes, but this a local tax and will be an investment in a local entity for the future of our community. State tax, federal tax, you don't know where those dollars go to, but a local tax you know the money is going to a local entity and what better place to put it than the schools."



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