Urbana City Schools voters will have a renewal levy to vote on in the March presidential primary.
The school board approved a resolution placing the district’s 14.8-mill renewal levy on the March ballot at its Tuesday meeting. The board decided to seek a “continuous” levy, which means voters will not vote on it again if it passes. The levy is estimated to generate $2.3 million next year.
The 14.8-mill levy was created by combining two levies in 2001 – a 7.2-mill levy and a 7.6-mill levy.
The school board has been making levies permanent, decreasing the number of ballot issues and helping to ensure funding will not disappear. School districts and other entities pay a portion of the costs for elections when they have issues on a ballot.
Voters previously approved the district’s 3.5-mill permanent improvement levy as continuous. Prior to that levy passage, the district asked for renewal levies in four out of five years.
The school district has other continuous levies on the books – an 8.5-mill levy from 1960, a 12-mill levy from 1968, a 4.5-mill levy from 1971, and a 5.2-mill levy from 1980, Treasurer Mandy Hildebrand said.
“I hate going back to the voters every year for the same thing that we were lucky enough to pass (previously),” said board Vice President Jan Engle. “It’s less of a headache. Let’s face it’ we’re always going to have to have this money. And, it would probably cost more money (for voters) if it falls off and we have to ask for it again.”
Engle referred to the tax rollback change at the state level. If a school district seeks new money, or seeks a replacement levy instead of a renewal, more of the tax dollars paid comes from homeowners than the state. If the school district asks for the same amount of money, it costs residents more than if the levy is renewed.
The school district has two other operating levies for residents to approve periodically – a 9.75-mill one and a 5.9-mill one. The 9.75-mill levy is a five-year renewal last approved in 2013; the 5.9-mill levy was renewed in November for five years.
If voters do not approve the 14.8-mill renewal in March, the board can place it on the ballot again for a special election next summer, or in the November general election. The levy expires at the end of December.
Administrators told the school board that this is a must-pass levy.
“This (levy) is too big to fail,” Urbana Superintendent Charles Thiel said, adding if it is not renewed there would be a “massive cut list” for staffing. “This is money that has been on the books for 20-plus years. The need is not going away. The state is not going to rain down money upon us so we can say we don’t need the levies anymore.”
Thiel added if the state did change its funding formula to where school districts would not need levy money in the future, the district could stop seeking a couple other levies that provide less money.
The board heard an update on the building project progress. The school district is working on developing plans for two new school buildings funded by a voter-approved bond levy. One building is an elementary/middle school building on land the district owns off Community Drive, and the other building is a rebuilt high school on its current site.
The preliminary plans for the elementary/middle school building are moving through the city approval process. As part of a conditional-use permit for zoning required by the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals, the district and city must put in writing a list of infrastructure items each entity will pay for around the site. The infrastructure agreement is intended as a guide for future city and school officials as to who is responsible for repairs in case something crops up down the road.
The Urbana Planning Commission is expected to make a decision on the elementary/middle school preliminary plan at its Monday, Nov. 23, meeting.