In ‘fiscal caution,’ Waterloo turns to voters a fifth time

Image of the Waterloo Local Schools sign
A sign reading “We miss our students” is seen on the front of Waterloo Local School District’s K-12 campus. Carter Eugene Adams/The Portager

Facing a deepening financial crisis, Waterloo Local School District is asking Atwater and Randolph residents to pass an earned income tax in Portage County’s May 4 election. 

Issue 9 is an additional 1.5% annual income tax on the earned income of people living in the district. The tax would apply for five years, beginning on Jan. 1, 2022, and would cover operating expenses to keep Waterloo out of the red and out of the state’s fiscal watch list.

In an email, Waterloo Local Schools Superintendent Shawn Braman broke down the annual cost of the levy for residents with the following example income scenarios:

  • $300 = $11.54 per paycheck for those who earn $20,000 per year
  • $459 = $17.31 per paycheck for those earning $30,000 per year
  • $750 = $28.85 per paycheck for those earning $50,000 per year

Anyone who is unemployed or receiving Social Security, pension, alimony, unemployment compensation, dividends, 401k payouts, annuities, capital gains, IRA distributions or any other unearned income would pay nothing.

The levy has failed four times previously. An identical measure on the November ballot went down 2,465 votes to 1,958.

“We have offered a continuous income tax, a 10-year income tax and a five-year income tax previous to this,” he said. “We have also offered the income tax to the community as a tax on all income. This time we are keeping this for five years on earned income only. Senior citizens who are retired will not have to pay the income tax. Those who become unemployed for whatever reason will not have to pay the income tax.”

Although he can guess, Braman said he isn’t sure why the levy failed in the past, but they’ve been close to passing it each time they’ve tried. He suspects it could be possible that it previously failed because it’s a new kind of tax for the community.

“As you know, the income tax is becoming more popular throughout the state as a way to help schools,” he said. “Typically, every community that has moved to request an income tax from its community has failed in its initial request. Sometimes school districts will ask three or four times before everyone gets used to the idea.”

If passed, the income tax would begin to be collected in January 2022. Braman said it would raise $2,334,000 for the school district. 

“We feel pretty confident that we will pass the income tax on earned income because retirees can support the schools without paying anything out of pocket, and people who may lose their jobs would not have to pay,” he said. “This is a fair way for everyone who is working to support the schools. We know the community loves what we do with our students. We are very hopeful they will pass the income tax on earned income on May 4.”

The polls will open at 6:30 a.m. and remain open until 7:30 p.m. on Election Day. Absentee ballots are also available. The last day to request one by mail is noon on May 1, though voters are encouraged to get their absentee ballot request in by April 27 to ensure enough time for mail delivery. All absentee mail ballots must be postmarked by May 3, or received at the Board of Elections Office by 7:30 p.m. on Election Day.

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Maria McGinnis is a contributing writer for The Portager.