All new tax issues fail

There weren’t many issues on the May special election local ballot on Tuesday, but all were asking taxpayers for money.

And all of the new taxes failed.

Only West Liberty-Salem’s renewal was approved.

The city of Urbana, Graham Local Schools and the Mental Health Drug and Alcohol Services board were all rebuffed by voters.

According to unofficial tallies released by the boards of election on Tuesday night, of the three new taxes only the MHDAS two-county levy was a close vote.

Champaign and Logan county voters combined to narrowly fail the new MHDAS property tax (4,271 for and 4,468 against). Logan County voters approved the levy, 2,186 to 1,639 but it failed in Champaign County with 2,085 yes votes and 2,829 no votes. The MHDAS board placed a 0.3-mill property tax levy on the May 7 ballot to respond to an increased need for mental health and substance abuse counseling and prevention services in nine local school districts in the two counties. The two-year levy would have generated $644,300 per year to help respond to issues such as depression, teen suicide, violence in schools, alcohol and drug abuse and other youth issues. If the levy had passed, it was projected to cost the owner of a $100,000 residence $10.50 per year.

The city of Urbana’s municipal income tax hike of 0.6 percent failed for a third time (694 against and 395 for) with 14.4 percent voter turnout in the city. The purpose of the proposed tax was to maintain police, fire and EMS services. If voters had approved it, Urbana would have collected a 2 percent total municipal income tax and half of that would have been dedicated to emergency services.

Graham’s proposed 1 percent earned income tax failed for the fourth time.

With more than 37 percent voter turnout in the district, 1,323 voters said yes but 1,717 said no to the tax. Currently, the school district’s local funding is collected solely through property tax. Graham has cut operating expenses in response to previous failures of the earned income tax, and the administration has said more budget cuts are on the agenda after the levy’s most recent failure.

Graham’s Board President Ryan Pine issued a statement Tuesday evening, with Graham officials calling the failure “another devastating blow” to the district. “The district’s earned income tax proposal came up short for the fourth time. District officials will now consider next steps to communicate the need for a future levy issue of a different type. We will move forward with making the cuts already announced.”

A successful levy would have allowed the district to restore lost services from last year, which included key staff members and transportation, reduce the fees imposed for activities and preschool, and to add back some of the support services lost, according to the district’s prepared statement Tuesday night.

“While it is not the outcome our supporters desperately want, a small core group of volunteer parents worked so hard to communicate our need to our community, and to engage our residents in a positive and proactive manner to share information about the financial stress our district is under,” said Graham Superintendent Kirk Koennecke. “I wish to thank our caring volunteers, teachers, staff and community supporters. They did an amazing job and I am forever grateful to them for their tireless efforts to support our Graham school community.”

The district now faces $600,000 in additional cuts, as well as student fee hikes for 2019-20. Busing and operating budgets will be further reduced for 2019-2020.

“The need did not go away with the failure of this levy,” stated Board Vice President Steve Setty. “The district has not had new operating dollars in over 26 years and the budget will remain strained.”

West Liberty-Salem Schools 1 percent income tax renewal was approved comfortably in both Champaign and Logan counties. The total of the two-county votes were 536 for and 225 against.

There were no candidates on the May ballot.

Staff report

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