Taxes

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Revision in plans for school facilities – June 2017

Published June 14, 2017 by justicewg
May Facility meeting with options3

June 8 meeting looked a lot like this May meeting

Superintendent Culp presented a shorter list of facility options at a June 8 community meeting, The three choices now being presented by the board are:

Moderately renovation of all three buildings – $35 million.

Extensively renovate the schools – $55 million.

Renovate Stevenson school and the high school and build a new Middle school on the current Edison/Larson site – $50 million.

Stevenson will be saved

A top choice in the first facility meeting was to move all of the Stevenson classes to a renovated or new campus at the middle school location. The board implied with a survey question that there may be a deal in the works to turn Stevenson into a “community center”, but no council member had knowledge of any plans for the use of the building by the city.

The reason for moving schools into a smaller number of buildings is efficiency, a single large building is cheaper to heat and cool than many scattered buildings. This is of course making the efficiency into the prime factor, and ignores the historical considerations about the old buildings.

Stevenson is no longer on the chopping block in the latest plans.

Millions for sports renovation

The board also announced a 2 million plan for new locker rooms, renovations to the home bleachers and resurfacing for the track. If the board follows the same tactic it used to complete the renovation of the artificial football field last year, there will be no public meetings to discuss the options, the board will simply do what they want.

Financial advisory committee to be formed

A financial advisory committee is scheduled to begin work at the start of 2018. The group will be reviewing project funding, whether the project should be completed in phases, and what the cost of a bond issue or levy would be for taxpayers. They might shoot for a fall 2018 levy.

One obvious choice for new school funds has never been mention by the school board, placing an income tax for the school system on the ballot. I can’t quite understand if this is because the school board doesn’t like income taxes, has never discussed the matter, or has been told by residents that they didn’t want a new income tax.

Treasurer Collier said that the Financial committee will be looking at the income tax possibility (during the June8 meeting), but with no statement of support or public disparagement of an income tax from the school board, the committee will be left to take all the heat generated from proposing a new tax. This seems like a cowardly way for the board to deal with tax issues.

I’m also waiting to hear if the board will chose to make the new finance committee closed to all visitors, keeping the proceedings secret like the Facility Task Force. That was a dumb move by the board that gave them no advantage, but served to reinforce the idea that the board works in secret and refuses to let the community know what they are doing in closed meetings.

New survey is super duper push polling

I noted in another story that the school board was using push polling in the last survey, using the questions more as a way to influence public opinion, rather than to learn about those opinions.

The new survey is even worse – pushing the statement that $44 million are needed as a baseline, and implying that the least costly option – $35 million – is a bad choice.

One of the questions asks you to give your own idea for an option for the schools. I don’t want to “push” anyone. But you can leave a message for the board about what you think of their performance in running the facility process in the “fill in what you want” box.

A third community facility meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Aug. 3.

School facilities options – first impressions

Published May 5, 2017 by justicewg

May Facility meeting with options3The school board has presented three major options for the school facilities (with seven sub-options). There is a lot of information to digest in the Master Plan Options but here are some quick first impressions.

Board doesn’t care about state borrowing limits

Six of the seven options are asking for more bonds that the state will allow by law.

How is it possible to borrow more than the state of Ohio allows? Some net research shows that it is possible to ask the state for a waiver of the rules, and if a general funds levy is set high enough (and passed by voters) to cover the difference in cost between the state bond limit and the construction cost, it is allowed.

Just like a homeowner might dig themselves into a deep hole by finagling a mortgage that he can’t really afford, and risks defaulting on the loan if the person is hit with a financial crisis, a district can dig itself into a hole that could cause catastrophic problems if a recession hits the economy. And what is the chances of that happening – who even remembers 2008?

Will the state allow Grandview to go over the legal bond limit? Remember, the state republican party, lead by Kasich, has singled out Grandview for the largest cuts in state funding. They want small schools to merge with larger ones, in order to be more efficient. What is stopping the state from saying “no, Grandview, you may not exceed the state limit”?

No mention of mills in report

The millions of dollars needed to build new schools (up to $70 million in the most expensive plan) has to be paid by the voters with increases in the property tax millage. There was no mention of mills – because the board knows that they would be calling the squad and wheeling homeowners out of the Glenn suffering from heart attacks.

The board didn’t make it easy to find information on mills needed to fund the facility plans, but there is some clues posted on the schools Facility FAQ page. According to this page, “a 5.52 mill levy today would generate enough to finance a project of approximately $33 million.” So if the board wants the $70 million to build a new “campus”, they would be asking for over 12 mills. Remember, the state is cutting their funding, and the number of administrators and their salaries continues to grow, so operating levies will be needed too. We might be looking at a 15+ mill request from the school board.

What is the history in Grandview for passing high millage levies? In May 2002, voters rejected a ridiculous 9.8 + 4 + 4 incremental school levy (the additional mills would be added in later years). It wasn’t even close, the voters rejected the high levy request with a 70% no vote.

Grandview Heights currently has the highest Total property tax rate (school plus city, etc.) in the county.

May 12 update – from a TVN story:

If the district were to pursue a project costing its current bond-borrowing capacity of $45.3 million, an 8.2-mill bond levy would be needed, Collier said.

There is no backup plan

Any serious, professional planner has an option ready for any contingency. The school board will be expected to push for one of the expensive, “no contact with reality” plans for massive new schools. It will fail to get the votes. They will then attempt one of the cheaper options (if you call $35 million cheap). Depending on the general economy, and the mood of the voters, that plan might also fail. What happens then?

I asked Culp if the board has a contingency plan ready if it can’t get the votes for the least expensive plan. I asked what the board would do about facility repair during the 2 or more years the school might ask for levies to pay for the expensive option. He replied with the usual bureaucratic non-answer.

The options in the master plan – ranging from a no contact with reality $70 million, to a near the limit allowed by law $35 million, are all of the plans the board has made. They are so sure they will charm us, and if needed threaten us, that they have no alternate to their expensive plans.

The board will “manifest” the money

I wrote a posts called What’s wrong with the School Board’s optimism?, I think it is the best explanation for what is happening on the board. Please read that post, and watch the Barbara Ehrenreich video.

The board has been in a self-reinforcing, protected from outside comments bunker mode for a long time. The carefully selected facility task force, segregated by board rules that prevented any visitor from attend their meetings, has reinforced the wall the board put up to keep reality out.

I think the board thinks that there is no reason that the expensive new campus options can’t be built. They are probably telling each other, “we can do it, we just need to say the right words, and we will manifest the money to build new buildings. It is just a matter of how much will power we have”.

We will have to endure multiple public meetings, at which the board will drone on endlessly about the numbers, then they will plead, then they will threaten. They will say that new building are the only moral choice, and those who oppose their plans are bad people who want to hurt children.

You didn’t vote for this

We haven’t gotten to the finger pointing section of the debate yet, so let me direct the first arrow.

Grandview didn’t vote to have buildings that need expensive maintenance. The only levy that has been rejected in the last 30 years was in 2002. All of the fault for the condition of the school buildings are on the school board. The priorities of the school board are clear in the spending they have done on a overloaded, high salary administration.

I’m sure that the present school board will claim they are heroic visionaries for proposing new school buildings. I think they are like the car dealer that notices a small patch of rust on your old car, and tries to convince you that the only solution that makes sense is to buy a $100K luxury car – because your kids deserve the best!

We do have an opportunity to vote for board members in the fall. Let’s send a clear message by rejecting all of the current members.

(Later) I should have added “spend a lot of money on experts in public relations” on my list of things the board is telling each other they need to do to get their new buildings. I have heard there is a PR firm that is paying Grandview residents to attend focus groups at which they are “asked about their opinions”. Push polling is a standard practice for PR firms, they slant the questions in ways that make doing what they want to be signaled as a virtuous act, and resistance is subtly associated with ignorance, close mindedness, and anti-social acts.

A message to the PR firm – Hi! I’m sure you are reading my blog, I have a offer for you. Want to get a look into the mind of a person who is going to be a vocal opponent of the construction of new schools? Pay me! Use the links in the About section to send me a message.  Lets make a deal!

Kasich budget hits Grandview hard, treasurer Collier tries to dance around bad news

Published February 24, 2017 by justicewg
collier-cut-head

Collier had her head cut off in the TVN photo

It has to be tough working for the mostly republican school board in Grandview, you have to deal with constant cuts from the republican controlled Ohio government, while whistling a happy tune and pretending everything will be OK.

School Treasurer Collier had an article in the TVN about the cuts in state funding on the way for the district, she explained how Grandview lost the most annual funding on a per-pupil basis – $684 – among all Franklin County districts. She tried to explain the cuts as a result of funding formulas that she said were hard to understand, or as she says, “Complex, isn’t it?”

No, it isn’t complex. Kasich and his republicans want to force small schools to merge with larger schools, that’s why Grandview was hit the hardest. If you want to keep Grandview from being forced to merge with another district (probably U.A.), you should be speaking up, denouncing the Kasich plans, speaking the truth about what republican plans will do to our school in the long term. But since the board members don’t want to hear that, we will be listening to the whistling past the graveyard.

Deception on taxes

Collier tries to pull a fast on on us by specifying the school tax rate, and claiming it is “one of the lowest”. First, our school millage is second only to Bexley. Second, our total property tax rate (school plus city, etc.) is the highest in the county. If you are going by the effective rate, Grandview is not at the top, so that is what the school wants us to look at, and ignore the other parts of the tables. Effective rates are important, but the total rate is where we know how we stand as far as taxing ourselves. We have passed the most tax millage in the county – we have no reason to expect voters to push taxes even higher.

City Total prop. Tax rate Effective rate, 2016
Grandview Heights 143.37 77.89
Bexley 141.65 73.76
Upper Arlington 133.06 75.03
Reynoldsburg 121.42 92.91
Westerville 123.92 95.41
Columbus 106.29 74.71

(Addendum) You might ask, why not link to the school website, shouldn’t they have the above data posted somewhere? And yes, under past Treasurers, there were charts showing mills voted and effective rates for the major school districts in the county. Treasurer Collier wiped this info from the website, then refused my request to replace and update the information. Then she changed her mind, and sometime around Dec 2015 she re-posted some of  the data. But as you see from looking at the data now on the school website, that fiscal information has been sitting unchanged since 2015, left to rot.

More loony plans from the Gov.

There is a second article in the TVN that covers much of the same news about the budget proposed by Kasich, and in this one Collier is not so pollyannaish. She is quoted saying about the state funding “That will be a pretty significant dropoff”. Funny, the other article made it sound like it was no big deal.

Kasich is pushing for a program of requiring teachers to take“externship with a local business”. The article makes it sound like a mystery plan with no clear reason for starting, but all republican plans can be understood if you listen to their constant bleating to “run government like a business”. They think that forcing teachers to spend time in local businesses is going to imbue them in the entrepreneurial spirit. Even when it makes no sense to push teachers with no students who could be in those businesses (any teacher under HS level), the R’s want to waste teacher time with social engineering.

Even superintendent Culp is quoted saying “It’s the local school board who knows what’s best for the teachers in their home schools and community.” I expect him to be hearing strong criticism from his bosses on the board over that weak opposition to republican plans.

More on Kasich and budget cuts from 2015.

(Addendum) I’ve had some people saying “so what, a cut of  $684  per pupil is not much for a year.” The problem is that as the 2015 post linked above shows, this isn’t a short term problem. The state might make another cut next year, and the year after that, then change the rules,  until Grandview Heights has no choice but to merge with another school system. And our school board might not be able to do much about it, but at least they should stand up and say “This is wrong”.

(April update) The Ohio House is planning to make some changes to the school budget, but Grandview is still singled out for the same cuts that Kasich wanted. The Senate is unlikely to help us. At least the wacky “externship” plan from Kasich has been dumped. Still no public announcement from the Grandview school board that criticizes the GOP or asks for parent groups to protest the cuts.

Understanding Grandview Yard tax revenue

Published August 30, 2016 by justicewg

The city has big plans in store for the future, and unless we are thinking about going to war with Upper Arlington, we will not be funding those plans with more taxable land area. We have some new businesses on Goodale, but that area has about maxed out on value (unless business owners can be convinced to build tall offices). That leaves Grandview Yard as the key to the future increases in finances. The City recently published an overall summary of the financial data available on the Grandview Yard development, let’s dig into the numbers.

Property tax income and TIFs and Pilots

Property value GY

The first chart shows the property market value of the Yard. The TIF value is the additional value that was created by construction, and by agreement with NRI, will mostly be used for infrastructure bonds. The abatements are cuts in taxes given as a lure to build (or what some might say as a give-away to businesses that always have a hand out for corporate welfare).

What you learn from this table – between the TIF and the abatements, the city has not increased tax revenue into the general fund from property tax. If anything, it went down. If the city would have the same reliance on property tax as the school, you would be reading stories in the TVN similar to the “No boon from G.Y.” story that was published this year.

Pilot is the brain of the TIF

We are getting into the complex part of the story when we try to understand PILOTs. I quote from the doc:

Properties in the Grandview Yard TIF pay amounts equal to the property taxes, known as “payments in lieu of taxes (PILOTS)”, as though the TIF had not been established. To the taxpayer in the TIF it is the same amount of money, but behind the scenes it is put into two different “pools”. The entire amount of PILOTs is sent to the City for distribution to the School, Library and Infrastructure Bond Trustee.

While the TIF was being set up, it was an agreed fact that the school and the library could suffer while the old buildings were torn down, and the TIF shuttled money to construction bonds. The PILOT is the brain of the TIF, and sets aside money to help the school and the library. There is complexity in the “Waterfall” of tax money that is diverted in stages to the school first, but I’m not sure if that’s important information. What you learn – the school tax income from G.Y. will be mostly flat.

Employment

According to the doc, there are over 2,000 new employees working at the Yard as of July 31, 2016. That’s not counting construction employees who are building the Yard. We are starting to get into the income tax part of the finances, and it is important to understand who pays income taxes to the city.

(Edit) I had some incorrect info about municipal income taxes, Ohio has some very complex rules. Some cities give 100% credit for income taxes collected outside the city, some 50%, some no credit. So it is possible for some Yard workers to pay taxes both to Grandview and an outside city. There is no breakout of the kind of tax income (personnel or business) in the data shown in this Grandview Finance document.

Business who are located in Grandview do pay income tax here. The 30 new businesses in the Yard will pay significant new income taxes to the city.

Summary of Revenue Created

Summary of Revenue Created

This chart shows a listing of the types of new money at G.Y. Note how much is being sent to the City of Columbus. Also note the size of the hotel tax, which only comes from one hotel, and will soon come from two. The largest non-TIF part of the pie is city income taxes.

Hotel Taxes

I’m working on a new story about how the Hotel taxes are generated and distributed. The only surprise I have at this tax is how well the Grandview Parks and Rec department did with a specific tax slice worth $136,439 last year. It will be something to watch as that number increases.

School Income

School district income from Yard

The school district depends on property taxes for most of their income. As you see in that section of the pie chart, the TIF agreements have held the taxes flat. The only section of the chart that is increasing is the “New Money PILOT”, and that’s only $302K last year, and is not supposed to gain much in the future.

The school can push for even higher property tax, but that will be coming from the rest of the city, not the Yard, which is protected by TIF agreements. The present millage puts us near the top of the chart in property tax rates in F.C., how much more can they expect Grandview residents to pay? Pretty obvious where the school will be going for new taxes in the future.

Did the UA recall kill the Grandview council vote on Wallace Gardens?

Published July 27, 2016 by justicewg

wallace gardensThe same day Grandview city council voted in favor of beer at the Ox Roast, they spent a lot of time in discussion of the improvements that were planned for Wallace Gardens. Council voted 5 to 2 to put the plans back on the shelf (Panzera and Papineau voted against). The $250K gift of money to help the city pay for the upgrades may not be available if the plans get re-introduced in the future.

At first I read this as a simple admission that council had let “free money” take them into an additional spending path that seemed good but also required spending two-thirds of the cost of the garden improvements from the city purse. The council acted as though the full $750K project was a unit that couldn’t be broken down into smaller chunks. After talking to a parks committee member I found that there was no requirement for the city to match spending in any way, they could have taken the grant and built as much as the money provided.

There is some logic to “if you are doing an upgrade, do it all at once”, so the disruption happens one time. But if holding out for the future means losing the grant, did that really make sense?

I’m wondering if the UA recall has the council on edge, rethinking all spending and obsessing over what might get them in trouble with the voters in Grandview? Park spending is always on the optional list, when city utilities and streets still need work.

The Wallace gardens project was always lacking a clear mandate from the voters. No group that I know asked for the upgrade. I’m guessing that if you went by number of visitors, the gardens have the least use of any park.

When I had my plot of land at Wallace, I sometimes found produce going missing while I was away, and suspected there are people who graze the gardens for free food. An upgrade that would bring more visitors to the park that don’t have a plot is asking for trouble – I would expect surveillance cameras would be needed. The upgrade is not being pushed by the present users, and might be opposed (I’m not aware of any garden user organization).*

If this new caution with the checkbook is caused by the UA recall, I have to say – good. Policy should never be driven by “free” money, the needs and stated wishes of the residents of the city should be the overwhelming factor in any city council – or school board – decision.

* I talked to some of the gardeners at Wallace, they didn’t have any unified opinion of the updates at the park. One of them said he has found people walking through the gardens in the past with shopping bags, picking whatever they wanted. When confronted, they said “this is a community garden – doesn’t that mean community food?

G.Y. is no financial boon to school district

Published May 18, 2016 by justicewg

bethcollier2010School treasurer Beth Collier had a story in the TVN about the financial issues we will see as the Yard gets built up. I missed noting the story when it first was published in April 2016, but it was an important document that should be linked and read.

TL,DR – Because the school board negotiated TIF agreements with NRI that mostly sent additional property tax money back into the infrastructure costs of the Yard, the school will see no windfall (until 2040, when the agreement expires.) “New funding generated by Grandview Yard has totaled $1,061,000 since 2010, which was less than 1% per year.”

If you are licking your chops over all that tax money to come after 2040, just remember that the City Center Mall was also a development that was supposed to provide taxes for Columbus after the TIF agreements ended. That didn’t work as planned. Money that arrives in 25 years goes into the Chicken and Hatch folder.

Something that wasn’t mentioned in the story – there have been very few children added to the school system so far from the apartments in the Yard. The single family homes that are under construction will add a few, but the total student additions are expected to be small. The school board would probably like you to think that there are more students on the way, so they can push for new school buildings. It just isn’t going to happen.

Also, the story in the TVN is about property tax. That is where all the money for the schools in Grandview comes from (well, a few other sources like the state, but that has been decreasing). There are other school districts in Franklin County, like Bexley, who have an income tax for the school. I’m surprised there was no mention of the possibility of an income tax for the school. I’m sure the board will be pushing that idea when they fail the first levy for building new schools.

Tangential to this story but worth noting – the TVN story has a Grandview Heights school logo as the illustration to this story, apparently it was one of the older designs that was still in use. Notice how it has the two initials of the school connected, but not overlapping, so the sequence and lettering is clear. Too bad that was one item in the historical past of the school that the board didn’t want preserved.

If you are wondering “why is the school Treasurer going public with a story about the G.Y. money, it has been a known issue for years?”, like everything else the board does now, it’s about managing perception of school funding in preparation for building new school buildings. If there are people who think the school is like the city and has significant new money on the way from the Yard, it impairs the ability to ask for new levies.

Previously – Read the post on the city blog by then President Panzera about the city’s tax income from the Yard. Although the story is a little dated (2014), it is a good overview.

(Update May 2017 ) Collier wrote a story for the TVN that is an almost identical to last year’s reminder that the Yard will not be a big source of funds for the schools. I guess that it is a message that needs to be repeated, low information voters can look at all the new buildings going up in the Yard and think that it must be creating a wave of new funding for the schools.

I think Collier will be putting this story on constant repeat, there is little chance the board can pass big new levies for building new schools as long as some percentage of voters still think the Yard will solve our school funding issues.

Almost stealth campaign for city levy renewal

Published March 3, 2016 by justicewg
Grandview ave no levy signs

Photo fun, count the number of levy support yard signs on this strip of Grandview Ave. right across from the city hall*.

You would not be alone in being surprised by the city tax issue on the March 15th ballot. The city has gone low key, almost stealth, in the hopes of another easy passage of property-tax.

Issue 3 is a renewal of the city’s four-year, 7.5-mill property-tax levy. The city says it is needed for general funds, as well as for some street improvements. I don’t think this tax money has anything to do with the city streets and utilities going into the Grandview Yard development, those were supposed to be paid with the TIF money that targets taxes from that development directly into the project’s public costs.

There may be some additional costs coming out of the Yard that needs regular city funds – additional police and firemen who will now be in charge of serving this part of the city. I have not heard any numbers from the city on how the development has increased personnel, but it is a sure thing.

There are a few yard signs posted around the city to promote the levy. I think you can spot the city council members homes by the occurrence of a sign on a front yard.

Will the Gladman income tax relief cause problems with this levy?

One of the issues that caused conflict on the council last year was the attempt by Mr Gladman to give 100% tax relief to all residents who work outside the city. While the income tax paid by Columbus workers is similar to Grandview’s, it leaves most workers with an additional tax payment to RITA, his plan cut this tax, while taking $250K away from the city. Some council members thought it was a poorly timed issue, this levy renewal was in the planning  stage and it didn’t make the city look consistent by asking for a renewal at the same time it was looking to cut taxes.

If you are thinking about voting against this levy, you have a good reason to hit the no button, provided by a council member.

Does the school board support the city?

The standard way the school board and the city council work is to support each other when they ask for a levy. Apparently the board is asleep – or doesn’t care – about the city levy this time. There is nothing in the school website about the levy, not a word in support of the city in the “Superintendent Speaks” published Feb 24th. Nothing was emailed home with the parents. Unless “Meet Me in St. Louis” is a secret code for “vote for the levy”, the school cares more about the spring play.

If you go by the absence of yard signs in front of the board members homes that I pass on the way around town, you would have to guess they don’t support the city. I hope the council members remember this the next time the school board is asking for more money.

History lesson

There was another Issue 3 on the ballot back in the spring of 2009, it was also a renewal that had a low key campaign, and passed by 773 yes, 125 no. Given that the economy was in the crapper that year with no improvement in sight, I was surprised by the numbers. I guess Grandview residents are happy to vote for something that is not an increase (and almost always vote for big increases too).

It’s like I’m shouting at clouds when I say this, but the way to keep taxes low and the  city representatives on their toes is to say NO every once in a while. Negotiation 101 – suckers take the first offer.

Reynolds flips on Issue 3

A story in the D says that councilman Reynolds has changed his mind and is now against the renewal issue 3. The city has an $8.4 million carryover in its budget from last year, and Reynolds thinks the tax is not needed. Mayor Ray DeGraw is quoted saying “We don’t have surplus money,” and that every dollar in the issue three is needed for long delayed maintenance and buildings.

There is almost no chance that issue three will fail, so it is an odd position for Reynolds to take. Anti-tax is a popular position though. Reynolds said in the article that he will not be campaigning to vote no, but he apparently thought it was a good thing to send an email to the news media announcing his flip during the week before the voting.

Election results

Preliminary vote – 2087 for the Issue 3, and 741 no. This wasn’t the quite the 80% yes vote of 2009, but 73% is close enough to think that any opposition expressed by a council member had little effect.

*Trick question! There are no signs.