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All posts for the month October, 2014

School levy promotional material mistakes and exaggerations

Published October 22, 2014 by justicewg

Effective Prop TaxSchool levy supporters can be expected to find the best supporting data to show the school needs to pass a levy. They ignore the numbers that don’t help their case. Sometimes they stretch the truth. This year they have posted some numbers that appear to be just made up.

I received a message from a Grandview parent who wanted to talk about the untold story of the levy financial information. The quotes to follow are from that parent, the comments between them are from me.

The supporting documents for these criticisms of the levy campaign come from the levy supporter’s own website.

http://www.vote4ghschools.org/uploads/5/1/5/4/5154125/five-year_forecast_assumptions.pdf
http://www.vote4ghschools.org/uploads/5/1/5/4/5154125/five-year_forecast.pdf
Another source of numbers at the school is the fiscal documents page on the school website.

The quality of our schools is critical to our children’s and our community’s future. We have a school system we are all proud of thanks to the hard work and dedication of our terrific teachers and staff. Adequately funding our schools is important to ensure they remain as good as they are.

It is also our school board’s and administrators’ responsibility to make the best use of our hard-earned tax dollars. Issue 2 on the Nov. 4 ballot is asking for too much, too soon. And, unfortunately, the levy committee has misled voters with its campaign.

Here Are 7 Things They DON’T Want You To Know:

  1. The levy committee has told us that “The time is NOW”. What they haven’t told us is that the school’s current cash balance is $4,000,000. By the schools’ own projections, they wouldn’t spend that down until the 2016 fiscal year – that’s without the levy.

Grandview has often a huge cash balance, well over anything it needs for a “rainy day”. That excess cash does nothing positive for the school, and supports the view that taxes are too high.

  1. They like to say that “…the state has reduced its funding by more than $2 million in recent years”. The truth is that the state reduced one portion of its funding by about $600,000 which was phased in four fiscal years ago. Our schools continue to get almost $3.5 million in state funding, so the reduction was actually less than 4% of the school budget.

The possibility of future cuts in state funding are emphasized in school planning documents. Maybe that will happen – and if it does, we can vote for an appropriate new levy, based of real numbers, not hypothecticals.

  1. The campaign says that the Grandview Yard “…has resulted in an increase of less than $250,000 in the district’s annual revenue.” Receipts from the Grandview Yard were actually $1.5 million in 2013, $687k in 2014, and projected to be at least $736k per year into 2017.

These Yard numbers are straight from the levy supporters own documents. I don’t know where that $250K number on the levy supporter website came from, it appears to be fiction.

  1. The levy committee has told us that, “Through sound financial management, the district was able to stretch that time period by a full year. Several measures have been taken to keep costs down.” But what they haven’t told us is that under this “sound financial management” this year expenses are projected to be $1.1 million more than revenue.

This is the paradox that school levy supporters always struggle to explain, if the school board is doing such a good job keeping cost down, why is the requested levy so high?

  1. When it comes to impact on taxpayers, the campaign uses small numbers, saying “For every $100,000 of appraised value of your home, it will cost just $17.29/month.” $17 is not a lot. But according to the Franklin County Auditor, the average assessed value of a home in Grandview last year was just under $250,000. If Issue 2 is allowed to pass, the average annual property tax would increase $516 and that would be on top of the increases coming from the triennial assessment. Also, there are around 1000 residential properties in Grandview with values and taxes above the average.

That $100K number is always used, and it is way out of range of the average Grandview home. Do you know any home in Grandview that is worth $100K?

  1. Our school tax rate is one of the lowest in Franklin County.” While the committee compared the effective school tax rate of a hand picked selection of schools, what they did not mention is that of the top 20 public schools in the whole state on the recently release State Performance Index, Grandview enjoys the 3rd highest per-pupil expenditures: $13,167.

There are some other tricks being done with that effective tax rate table that supporters use. Here is the table from the school treasurer website, compare it to the table on the levy supporter website.

Effective Prop Tax

How to make a school look better than it is – first, throw away two of the schools that are lower in effective tax rate. Next, don’t mention the average effective rate in the county (49), because if you compare it to the Grandview rate (43), the truth comes out that our rate is – a little better than average.

  1. If we support our schools now, the levy will be collected based on current values – not the increased values that go into effect soon.” The school administration and board decide how much to ask taxpayers for and can easily adjust down the millage to a more appropriate and fiscally responsible level in the next election cycle in May.

That “pass the tax before the property values go up” reasoning from levy supporters was always a red herring. The assessed property value of our homes will go up, they will go up no matter what we do with our voting on taxes. It make just as much sense to say, “Don’t pass the levy now, we will be able to vote a lower tax millage in the future when property values go up”. The school needs some number of new dollars in the future, the value of our homes has no effect on that number. The questions is, what is the correct number?

(Nov. 4) Grandview likes taxes! 62% in favor, this is identical to the 2005 results. The last failed levy was May 2002, when voters rejected a ridiculous 9.8 + 4 + 4 incremental school levy. After the final votes are posted it will be interesting to see the results of voting with the new Grandview Yard voters.

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Board president Douglass now refuses to answer questions at meetings

Published October 22, 2014 by justicewg

The school board meetings here in Grandview Heights are normally filled with the standard votes on buying equipment, approving field trips, hiring part time coaches and keeping old buildings running. Every once in a while, a controversial topic like the firing of the band director will cause the room to be filled with angry parents, and the board meeting becomes exciting for a while. Those meeting don’t happen often.

The only wildcard in a standard board meeting is the part called “Recognition of Guests and Hearing of the Public”. Anyone in the community might show up, and in the past, the board was willing to not only hear people out, but give answers to questions from the public. I checked back in past board meeting notes, and found examples of the board answering questions from parents in the early part of 2013.

In the 20 or so years I have been going to Grandview Heights board meetings, I have stood up at the Hearing section of the meeting and asked questions about the board policy on drug use by students, the process for funding the SRO, questions about class size in kindergarten and other topics. The board members were always willing to answers questions, even if the questions were about topics they would rather keep silent on.

The one question I have asked most often of board members is “how can I get you to answer my email?”. That was the first question I asked when Grant Douglas was elected board president, and he answered my question at the board meeting.

I went to the October 21, 2014 board meeting, and held my hand up to speak before the board in the Hearing part of the meeting. As I had done in the past, I asked a question about board policy.

Grant Douglass said “We don’t answer questions from the public at board meetings”.

I asked how I could get an answer then. He said I could wait to the end of the meeting, after it was adjourned, and he would talk to me. That would mean the talk would be off the record, unrecorded. I asked him if he could answer my emails. He said again “We can talk” (off the record).

Douglass was not breaking any rules for the chairing of board meetings by refusing to answer questions. The state of Ohio says the board must allow the public to speak, but there is no requirement to answer. The board meetings of the city of Columbus follow the same policy of allowing comments, but never give answers.

Grandview was always different from Columbus. Even though we are a city surrounded by a major municipal area, the small size of the Grandview schools used to mean that the board was willing to do the right thing, and have a conversation about school policy with anyone who showed up for a board meeting. No more, under Grant Douglass.

I sent him an email containing the questions I couldn’t get answered at the board meeting. They were the same questions I had sent him a month ago, and he had not answered. I’m not holding my breath for a reply from him.

(Later) Douglass replied to my email, saying he was not going to answer my questions by email. How surprising.

Grandview Flasher may (not) have been caught

Published October 14, 2014 by justicewg

The Grandview police posted a story on the Grandview Heights Blog today that reports a man was arrested for engaging in a sex act inside his vehicle at the Yard garage.

Police are withholding photos until other victims have an opportunity to view a line-up. If this is the Grandview Flasher, it will end a two year long search and more than 15 incidents of exposing himself to area women.

Although the flasher that has been seen in the Grandview area is often called “The Flasher”, singular, there has been evidence that it could have been more than one person. The police said this summer the suspect was described as a slender white male about 5’10” and possibly in his 20’s. The man caught was 33, and there were some conflicting descriptions, so we don’t know if this is the only guy.

Ch 10 said there is a photo that was taken by a victim that may be used to identify the perp.

Even if this guy is positively identified as the person who did most of the flashing, we are not going to end this sort of crime in Grandview by putting one man away. Grandview Heights should know this better than other communities, after all, we had a Mayor Pierce who was caught exposing himself back in the 80’s.

 (Oct 15 update from Police)

Several victims have been contacted to view a photo line-up containing Clint Wolf’s photograph. The victims that met with investigators were not able to positively identify Clint Wolf as the suspect from several public indecency incidents over the past 14 months in Grandview Heights. Many victims felt they did not obtain a good look at the suspect’s face.

The police posted a photo of Clint Wolf in the Grandview City Blog. I don’t understand why this was done, if there were any more people who might have been able to identify the Flasher in a lineup, the testimony  has now been rendered less effective, because they might have been using the photo provided by police to do the identification, instead of memory.

The update says that nobody they called in (and who showed up) was able to identify Wolf as the Flasher. I guess they are giving up on trying to identify him by witness testimony – or they have a lot of testimony that doesn’t match him. The description given out by police back in the summer said the flasher was thin. Wolf doesn’t look very thin to me. I think it is very possible that Wolf was engaging in a sex act inside his vehicle at the Yard garage, but was not the Flasher.

(Oct.27 update) Another public indecency report, the victim observed the suspect performing a sex act on himself while standing in front of a business window at 1095 W. First Ave. The suspect is described as a slender Caucasian male, approximately 5’8”, and he was wearing a black hooded sweatshirt.

Grandview’s JEDZ with Clinton Township

Published October 6, 2014 by justicewg
Franklin County Boundaries

Franklin County Boundaries – click for full size

Grandview Heights made an alliance with Clinton Township last year called a Joint Economic Development Zone. The council has been making various changes to the agreement and setting up accounts for the money as late as June of 2014. Also this summer the Ohio state legislature has voted to eliminate the formation of any new JEDZ between cities and townships.

The simple explanation of the JEDZ is “Grandview uses its taxing authority to levy income taxes on Clinton Twp. businesses, and shares the funds with the Twp.”. Things get a lot more complex in the implementation, but supporters of the tax say this is a way to fund new development in townships that struggle to pay for roads and services, because they don’t have the authority to create income taxes. Critics say this is a “tax grab” that was a misuse of the program, and have passed a bill to end new JEDZs.

Crazy map

How do you mentally map Franklin County? You might imagine the city of Columbus in a big splotch in the center, surrounded by 15 suburbs. Maybe you know about Clinton Twp. because of the signs at the Target on Olentangy Rd. If you have been here for a while you remember the New Rome scandal (a corrupt speed trap, now dissolved).

Click the photo above for a full sized view of the political map of Franklin county. The reality is a confusing maze of boundaries between 16 cities, 9 villages, and 17 townships. Islands within other city boundaries are common, separated by miles. Streets can change jurisdiction mid block, zig-zags run wild.

How Franklin County got so confusing would fill a long and boring book, but the quick story is that Ohio counties were divided into townships during the founding of the state, and city boundaries slowly ate up sections of the townships as they grew. But because small sections of the old townships could vote to keep themselves outside nearby cities, avoiding the taxes while receiving the advantages of new jobs, the map became Byzantine.

Mayor DeGraw on the Clinton Twp JEDZ

I asked mayor DeGraw to explain how Grandview got started on the JEDZ with Clinton Twp.

Clinton township came to us. They chose to talk with Upper Arlington, new Albany and us. They felt these 3 communities could help them with economic development and they liked what was going on in the 3 communities. New Albany was not interested. They did not like the UA proposal or the way they were treated. So they chose us. We were approached a few years ago by Prairie but it did not work out. We were not sure about pursuing it. Really not located in an area of common interest and our tax rate was higher than anyone else at the time. Now more communities at 2 1/2. The common interest in our area development and the development occurring in the area makes sense for us to work with Clinton Twp. Supports 315 corridor plan. . We are the closest community to them on the west side except of course Columbus.

The deal with Clinton Twp. seems like a real moneymaker for the city, I asked if the deal that was passed was normal.

Our proposal of a 20% plus expenses up to 2% made sense to them and is common. We also offered to provide economic development help.

Shortly after the deal passed, there were amendments that changed to boundaries. I asked why?

Amendments are due to a couple of things. First there was the timing on passage. We had to adjust the date because there are only so many days one community has to pass it after the first community passed it. Almost all the other changes were a result of adjusting the properties that are identified as commercial. There was not good data base of commercial properties with no one living in them. It is important not to include any property in the Jezz that has someone living there. So there were a number of adjustments as we went through the property. I think there was also a Couple of technical issues. Can get a breakdown if you wish.

Council also approved legislation to create a joint economic development fund for the deposit of the tax payments the city collects. What specifically will that money be used for?

The fund you ask about will collect the tax money of which 80% will be sent to Clinton Twp after expenses. It is identified what will go to their economic development of that money. Grandview will keep the remaining 20% to do with what council directs. There has been some talk about our share going to an economic development fund. Council can direct. Unless directed differently it will go in the general fund. (note – this question was asked in March, the answer may be different now).

The Dispatch had a story about JEZ in Ohio, called “License to Plunder”. How do you respond?

http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/editorials/2014/03/16/license-to-plunder.html

Saw the article. Yes a city at one end of the state could work with a township at the other end with no common interest. Obviously not the intent. I think more that a land grab it is a way for townships to try and raise money due to State cuts. They are really limited on funding opportunities and have no taxing authority.

In our case I believe it makes sense to work together.

We are still in the early stages of this JEDZ, I’m not sure if much has been done beyond set up the funding. I don’t see any downside to the deal for Grandview, unless Clinton Twp. would use the money in some illegal way and drag Grandview into a scandal. More on this as results from the JEDZ are announced by the city.

A technical note for internet trolls

Published October 3, 2014 by justicewg

There is something about the semi-anonymity of the internet that brings out trolls. People who would not think of saying rude comments in person feel it is OK to let their inner rage out in comments on the internet. If you read the comment sections of a lot of newspapers you will see these trolls on display, flamethrowers ready and caps lock keys set to upper case. They degrade the level of discussion to the point where any forum that doesn’t filter them out quickly becomes unusable, as their noise overwhelms the signal.

I get a few of these trolls here on my blog every once in a while. Since I approve all comments before they are posted, it is simple to filter them out. They seem to get more active near elections, as the excitement of a pending vote inspires some to get out the vote, and others to post threats on the internet.

I don’t think the majority of these trolls will ever go past leaving a threatening message, so I use the delete button, and that is the end. However, some blog owners have been subjected to repeated, serious threats, had their personal information posted, had deliveries sent to their houses, and other methods of harassment. I have never had anything close to that happen to me. But it does seem to be increasing in general on the net.

If you are thinking about becoming an internet troll, you need to know an important fact: you are not anonymous. Just because you left a fake name doesn’t hide the origin of your message. If you are commenting from work (like maybe – battelle.com ) the network IT managers at your office will have a record of the machine that was used to sent the message. Businesses tend to have very strict policies about using the internet, and trolling is a fast way to get yourself fired.

I’m all for free speech. I am not, however, willing to have my blog degraded by trolls, and I don’t sit passively for sustained threatening messages. Losing your job because you don’t know how the internet works would be a very poor outcome.