Economic concerns weigh on residents considering facilities bond issue
To the Editor:
I attended the meeting on Sept. 11 about the Cleveland Heights-University Heights school district’s proposed bond issue to fund major renovation and updates of the district’s school buildings. Supporters of the bond issue made a compelling case to no longer delay this long-overdue renovation of our school buildings. It seemed, at least for the majority attending the meeting, that there was no disagreement on this point.
However, during a “sidebar” conversation with another resident outside of the actual meeting, it became clear to me that, for at least some of the citizens of the district, the need to rebuild and upgrade the school facilities is not the central issue. They understand and agree that the need exists. The real issue for these citizens is and will be an economic one, pitting the cost of long-term financing of the facilities plan against the continued need to fund school district operations at the same time. In fact, it was mentioned at least once that the significant property tax increase that will be needed to pay the debt service on the long-term bonds will not eliminate the need for new revenues that inevitably will be needed over the same 30-plus-year time span to operate the schools. The real issue is the economic angst that funding both a major building renovation plan and continued operating costs from the tried and true property tax will place upon the household budgets of many, including senior citizens and others on a fixed income.
The sidebar conversation produced at least one idea that the board of education should seriously consider. Retain financing the district's capital improvements by a long-term bond issue, the debt service on which will be paid for by a property tax levy. However, although the property tax has been the staple source for operating revenue over the years, the board does have another source of revenue that it could consider for operating costs. That source is a school district income tax. There are several good reasons to explore this option, not the least of which being that the tax could be imposed only on earned income, with the pensions and other fixed retirement income of those citizens without earned income not being subject to the tax. Additionally, the income tax is not a regressive tax, like the property tax. It would produce increased income only if, and as, wages increase over time.
I would like to hope that if the board were to commit to avoid using the property tax to raise new income for operations during the time that the long-term bonds were outstanding and commit to use instead a school district income tax for this purpose, the economic angst that many citizens are experiencing around this comprehensive capital improvement plan may at least be partially abated.