Mayor Bruce Mavec of Hunting Valley worked quickly to address a letter that was mailed out last week to encourage residents to vote down the Orange Community Education and Recreation levy renewal that was supposed to be on the Tuesday primary ballot. Director of the Ohio Department of Health Dr. Amy Acton ordered that the election not take place on Tuesday because of a public health emergency, the spread of the coronavirus, or COVID-19.
Gov. Mike DeWine initially recommended that the election be moved to June 2, but it remained unclear as of Wednesday morning what would happen. The letter, which many residents of the Orange City School District received in the mail, was not signed but has a title of “Concerned Citizens of Orange School District.”
The letter reviews and critiques finances for the Orange City School District, even though the 0.95-mill levy renewal is for Orange Community Education and Recreation. The school district is the fiscal agent for Orange recreation, but funding and revenue are separate, Orange recreation Director Jill Korsok explained.
“I and the village administration do not agree with the tone and timing of the letter,” Mayor Mavec said in a letter to Hunting Valley residents dated March 13. The letter is also posted on the village website, www.huntingvalley.net.
The anti-levy letter lists 10 statements that voters should know before the election. The statements include criticisms of Orange’s cost per pupil, which is $24,510 per year. Orange schools Treasurer Todd Puster has said in past meetings that the cost per pupil is $24,510 per year when calculated in the Cupp report but is $20,101 per year as reported by the Ohio Department of Education state report card.
The unknown author of the letter also wrote that Orange has “irresponsible and excessive over-spending which compounds over time.” The letter also states that Orange does not rank as well as other nearby districts, including Solon and Chagrin Falls. Throughout the letter, the author refers specifically to how lower taxes would benefit the taxpayers of Hunting Valley in particular.
“The Village of Hunting Valley is not and will not be involved in any criticism of the Orange schools,” Mayor Mavec said. “The village is part of a larger community, and it is important to support and encourage that which brings us together and improves the lives of all residents,” he wrote in his letter to Hunting Valley residents. “I want to assure you that the village will continue policies that both care for our residents as well as keep the village in good stead as a member of the larger community.”
In July, Hunting Valley officials worked with state Sen. Matt Dolan, R-Chagrin Falls, to add an amendment to HB 166, the state’s biennial budget. The amendment would have lowered property taxes going to the Orange district only for Hunting Valley residents, but not for any of the other municipalities that are part of Orange public schools.
Mr. Puster said that the district would have lost $6 million per year while Hunting Valley Finance Director Brian Coughlin said that the district would have lost $3 million. Mr. Coughlin, who told the Times last summer that he was leading Hunting Valley’s legislative attempt to reduce property taxes, said on Thursday that he was not aware of the anti-levy letter. He advised that he would “go check his mailbox right now” to see if he received one.
At Hunting Valley’s council meeting on March 10, Mr. Coughlin shared facts about the Orange recreation department that he requested from Ms. Korsok. He told Village Council that Orange recreation has 39 people on payroll, all of its programs are open to non-residents of the district, there are two teachers per preschool classroom and there were 13,500 program registrations in the 2018-19 school year.
“The levy will cost residents in the district $5 million over the next five years,” Mr. Coughlin said. “We wanted to have as much transparency as possible.”
At Hunting Valley’s council meeting, Councilman Bill O’Neill said that the village has been forced to be part of Orange recreation.
“It seems to me that we ought to exercise our displeasure by voting down this levy,” he said.
Mr. O’Neill questioned if council should take a stance on the levy renewal. Councilman Bill Mulligan disagreed, saying that is not council’s role.
“I think having council take a position on this would be a mistake,” he said. Councilman Jerry Medinger also agreed that council should not take a stance on this issue.
Mr. O’Neill offered if council should mail the information about the recreation levy renewal to its residents just to make them aware of the facts. Mr. Coughlin said, “Voter education never hurts.”
“I would applaud it rather than say it’s a bad thing. The importance of a letter like that is not who wrote it, but whether the facts are accurate,” Mr. O’Neill said on Sunday. “If the facts are correct, it doesn’t matter who said them.”
Council Clerk Harry Hawkes said that if council shared the facts of the Orange recreation department without a narrative or an opinion, people could interpret it in different ways. He said that a resident could look at the same facts and determine that Orange recreation is a benefit to the community.
The council as a body decided not to move forward with informing their residents about the levy.