Voters in Ravenna Township and Ravenna school district have two important levies to decide

Ravenna High School (Roger Hoover/The Portager)

Voters in Ravenna Township will decide the fate of two levies, and those who live in the city still have a significant decision to make.

Issue 9

Issue 9 is a five-year, 6.1-mill additional tax levy to fund Ravenna Township fire and EMS. The county auditor estimates the levy would generate $1,071,000 annually, which amounts to $214 for each $100,000 of appraised value.

A five-year, 5-mill levy township voters approved in the November 2020 general election would be canceled if the new levy takes effect, so property owners would not be paying into two levies. Effectively, then, approval of Issue 9 means voters would only see a 1.1-mill increase.

If issue 9 does not pass, the 5-mill levy will continue until it expires in 2026, and the fire department would ask voters to approve another levy bid in the future.

Levy funds would ensure proper staffing so the township could respond to an increasing number of emergency calls. Department records indicate that its call volume has risen from 1,279 in 2015 to 1,734 in 2023: a 33% increase in less than a decade. And in the last eight years, there has been a 170% increase in back-to-back calls.

Ravenna’s fire department currently has nine full-time and 20 part-time employees. Though temporary federal American Rescue Plan Act funds have helped the department cover staffing costs, the department is down to three employees on-station almost half the time.

“Four is the industry standard for fire responses,” township Fire Chief David Moore said. “We have also seen an increase in back-to-back EMS calls, and having four people on station allows us to handle both EMS calls with our two squads.”

Local response, as opposed to relying on mutual aid from other communities, is critical because every second counts when someone is not breathing, he said.

“We want our people and equipment available to serve our residents, who have paid for them,” Moore added.

If approved, Issue 9’s five-year time clock would start running in 2024, with proceeds first due in 2025.

If Issue 9 does not pass in March, the fire department would be operating in deficit spending by the end of the year and would have difficulty providing current services and staffing levels, Morse said, adding that the longer deficit spending continues, the more difficult those issues would become.

Issue 12

Voters in the Ravenna School District, which covers the city and township, are being asked to approve Issue 12, a five-year, 6.9-mill additional tax levy to fund emergency requirements. The county auditor estimates the levy would generate $2.7 million annually, which amounts to $242 for each $100,000 of appraised value.

Ravenna voters approved a renewal levy in November 2021, but it was a permanent improvement levy to be used only for buildings, books and buses. That’s per state law, which sets different levies for each purpose, district Treasurer Candi Lukat said.

Operating budgets are used to fund salaries and benefits, service contracts for health and special education services, utilities, technology, supplies and curriculum materials, dues and fees.

District voters haven’t approved an operating levy since 2005, which still provides about $2 million in yearly revenue. Since then, though, the district’s base salaries for teaching and non-teaching staff have increased about 40%.

To attract and retain qualified bus drivers, their base salary also has increased nearly 40% since 2005. Meanwhile, the district’s medical insurance premium costs have increased 163% since 2005, Lukat said.

Ravenna schools’ $29 million operating budget is funded about 60% by the state and 40% by property owners through their taxes. Lukat said passage of Issue 12 would prevent the district from spending money it doesn’t have.

School districts are legally not permitted to operate in the red, but the district’s most recent five-year forecast, generated in October 2023, showed deficit spending in 2021 and 2022 and projected continued deficit spending through 2028, Lukat said.

Without an influx of tax revenue, Lukat said the general fund would be completely spent at the end of fiscal year 2025.

Districts can reduce spending, but since almost 80% of any district’s expenses are earmarked for salaries and benefits, that means eliminating positions. Ravenna schools cut 14.5 FTEs (full-time equivalent positions) this year by reducing teaching positions and increasing class sizes.

No classes were eliminated, but the number of students in classes from kindergarten on up increased, Lukat said.

Should Issue 12 fail in March, district officials are scrutinizing programs that are not mandated by state and federal law.

The district spends $735,900 a year to provide a five-star preschool program for 3 and 4 year olds, charging parents on a sliding fee scale. It could be axed, as could the district’s all-day kindergarten, which costs the district $409,425 annually. The state only requires half-day kindergarten.

The district also has its eye on costs associated with non-mandatory transportation, which would affect field trips and rides to and from sporting events, she said. Lukat said the district is not considering cutting busing altogether at this point.

Also on the chopping block could be extra- and co-curricular activities such as art, music, career and tech ed courses and credit recovery programs. The programs help students realize success after graduation and losing such courses and opportunities could only be detrimental, Lukat said.

Contracts for nurses, occupational and physical therapists and social workers are also being scrutinized. Lukat characterized the contracts and services as “critical for the district’s neediest students,” whose parents would then be forced to look elsewhere for the care their children need.

Should Issue 12 pass, the district would not be able to add any positions or programs, but would be able to maintain current levels, Lukat said.

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Wendy DiAlesandro is a former Record Publishing Co. reporter and contributing writer for The Portager.