Cambridge City School District is happy to acknowledge that school tax burden will be going down for local property owners starting next year as two bond issues passed to support the construction of schools will expire after 20 years.
At the same time, CCSD is attempting to pass a renewal operating levy that will provide the same amount of money it did in 1992, the year the levy passed for the first time.
“We appreciate the support we receive at the polls and want taxpayers to know their tax dollars are being spent earnestly,” Superintended Dan Coffman said. “We have been good stewards of the public funds we receive,”
In the early 2000s, voters agreed to a 20-year bond levy that would help fund the construction of the new schools -- three on Wills Creek Valley Drive, one on Clairmont Ave. and the renovation to Garfield School located on South 8th Street.
At the same time, voters also agreed to a smaller maintenance levy that would pay for the upkeep of the new schools through 20 years.
The maintenance levy that generates approximately $175,000 per year and the construction bond that generates approximately $315,000 annually, will both expire at the end of 2022 and will reduce the tax burden on our local residents.
In addition, the School District is working with local officials to collect only what is needed to make the final payment on the bond.
“Our goal is to not collect one penny more of the taxpayers’ money than we need to pay off the loan,” Coffman said. “Our treasurer is working with the Department of Taxation to ensure we do not have excess money in a fund that we are not allowed to spend even if that means paying a portion of the final payment from our general fund.”
At about the same time the community voted for the bond issues to build new schools, a permanent improvement levy that generated approximately $400,000 annually, was not renewed by the voters.
After 20 years of wear and tear on the “new” schools, the was facing some serious maintenance and repair costs in excess of $1,000,000. Projects like repaving parking lots, replacing roofs, and installing new heat pumps have substantial price tags and often lead to additional costs.
In order to take care of the facilities, in 2019, the Cambridge Schools Board of Education made the decision to move funding resources from the operating fund to the permanent improvement fund.
Permanent improvement funds are allowed to be spent to upgrade or take care of facilities or to purchase items that will last at least five years, like musical instruments, curriculum, buses, or new roofs.
When the district moved the funding stream known as “inside millage” to address it most pressing needs, our taxpayers saw an increase. State law requires that a minimum of 20 mills is raised through local tax dollars to support the operation of the schools, and since Cambridge City Schools are funded at the absolute State minimum, an increase was implemented.
Unfortunately, many school districts operate at the minimum state-required funding level while in other districts voters agree to raise double, triple and even four times more than the minimum.
The funding that was shifted to the permanent improvement fund will help offset costs when the maintenance levy goes away next year.
“Our facilities are in decent shape, but they are no longer ‘new,’” Coffman said. “I know it seems like they were just built, but it has been close to 20 years since they were constructed and there are costs associated with keeping up several 20-year-old buildings.”
While those maintenance costs will continue to be endured by the school district, taxpayers will see less of a burden when it comes to their school taxes, even with the passage of the renewal operating levy.
Note: This is the second in a five-part series about the financial situation of Cambridge City School District.