With the goal to “sustain Chagrin,” Superintendent Robert Hunt and Treasurer Ashley Brudno nailed down the importance of passing the 3.85-mill school levy on the Nov. 3 ballot in a virtual town hall with district residents. The biggest message was that approval of Issue 20 will not raise taxes.

Dr. Hunt outlined in a presentation a recap of the levy’s timeline for the Chagrin Falls Exempted Village School District since the beginning of the year, highlighting the overall need for the millage and how it evolved in the wake of COVID-19.

“We have worked really hard to bring this millage down to a point where it would not increase the revenue that’s coming into the district nor what our residents will pay in a property tax standpoint,” he said during the Sept. 22 town hall. “We want to sustain the excellence, the academic programming and the staffing that we have to provide that wonderful experience for students.”

He said the district last passed an 8.9-mill levy in 2017 for the Chagrin Falls Intermediate School with the promise to not return for another levy for three years, putting the district right on time for their new request to voters. With the approval of the 3.85 mills, he said, the district is again committing to not come back to taxpayers for another three years.

Originally, the board of education’s Finance and Budget Committee determined that the district would need a 7.9 mill levy, but after the economic recession that resulted from state-mandated closures in the spring due to COVID-19, the district opted to drive the millage down to 3.85 with up to $1.2 million in budget cuts.

Dr. Hunt said the 3.85 mills will replace the effective millage of a 1997 bond issue passed to build Chagrin Falls Middle School. Due to refinancing the repayment of the bond in 2012, the last payment for the debt service will be this December.

“Essentially, we will no longer have to collect that 3.85 mills to pay a bond. We’re asking our voters to approve that to bring that into the operation side,” he said.

During a question and answers session following the presentation, facilitated by John O’Brien, a 30-year resident of the school district and member of the budget and finance committee, an attendee submitted the question asking how new 3.85 mills would not increase taxes if replacing a bond levy from 1997.

Mrs. Brudno explained that 3.85 is the effective millage of the debt service falling off and not the actual voted millage of the original levy, explaining that due to House Bill 920, as property value increases, the hard number of revenue the district receives from levies remains stagnant.

She added that passing a bond levy and an operating levy are not the same.

“When you pass a bond, you pass it for the principal amount and for the amount that you would need to make the debt payments over the life of that bond,” she said. “[The bond levy will] list a millage and it’ll say it’s estimated by the county fiscal officer to be an average millage amount over those years.

“So the 3.85 that’s coming off is from 2020 collections. It’s not 1997’s 3.85 versus 2020’s 3.85,” she explained. “The 3.85 that’s coming off is from what was collected this year.”

Dr. Hunt said the ballot language may confuse voters because the levy will be considered “additional” millage. This, he said, is simply because it’s a new levy that will go into the general fund if approved by voters.

If the levy is voted down, Dr. Hunt and Mrs. Brudno explained, the district will have to come back to the voters with higher millage in the spring, calling for 7.9 mills that would increase taxes.

Mrs. Brudno said 3.85 mills costs a taxpayer about $135 per $100,000 of home valuation.

“Often people ask about well what happens if [the levy] fails,” Dr. Hunt said. “We don’t like to run scare campaigns, but the reality of that answer is it’s going to be some combination of additional cuts, which Ashley and I had created a significant list that really starts to impact programming and what we’re offering students, and a return to the ballot for millage.

“Any millage that is passed in the spring will be [an] additional cost to the district,” he added. “We kind of lose that opportunity for this flat tax option.”

Sam Cottrill started reporting for the Times in February 2019 and covers Auburn, Bainbridge, Bentleyville and Chagrin, Kenston, Solon and West Geauga schools. She graduated from Kent State University in 2018 with a bachelor's degree in journalism.

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