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MCCSC previews fall referendum, addresses 'misleading' ballot language

MCCSC-bus-close-up.jpg

The Monroe County Community School Corporation hopes to pass another referendum in November. The district is looking to levy 20.5 cents for every $100 of assessed property value. But with a recent increase in assessed value, the levy is more likely to be 18.5 cents.

MCCSC said the average Monroe County property owner will pay an extra $125 if the referendum is successful.

In 2010, voters approved a 14-cent levy in the districts first referendum. At the time, it generated $7.3 million annually for the district. Adjusting for inflation, that would be worth almost $9.6 million today.

“Because of inflation, we clearly aren’t doing as much in 2022 as we did in 2010, because that $7.3 million doesn’t buy what it did in 2010,” superintendent Jeff Hauswald said.

READ MORE: Superintendent: Low pay to blame for MCCSC staff, teacher shortages

Monroe County voters upheld the same $7.3 million investment with a 11.5-cent rate through a second referendum in 2016. Due to increased assessed value, this rate is now 9 cents, but the district receives the same amount.

“We’ve been asking for the same amount year after year since 2010, but the rates keep dwindling,” assistant director of business operations Adam Terwilliger said. “And what that means is we are in a community that is growing leaps and bounds in its assessed evaluation.”

LISTEN: Higher property taxes to come for Monroe County homeowners

However, the current referendum expires at the end of 2022. Without another successful vote, the district could be pushed off a fiscal cliff in 2024. Hauswald said the district would have to make major cuts, including laying off more than 100 employees.

“Unfortunately, we have to ask our local community to do [this] because our state funding has not kept up with inflation,” Hauswald said.

If the referendum passes, 93 percent of the money would be invested in personnel. Teachers will make an additional $4,500 per year, staff wages will increase $2.25 per hour, and the district will invest $1.2 million in special education, arts, and STEM.

Hauswald said MCCSC will add a calculator to its website in the coming weeks so community members can see how much the referendum would cost them.

The board of school trustees will vote June 13 whether to place the referendum on the November ballot.

Dr. Jeff Hauswald
Jeff Hauswald (Courtesy: MCCSC)

What would the referendum look like on the ballot?

Hauswald said new referendum language in Indiana can be misleading. The ballot question will be presented as a percentage, as opposed to an actual dollar amount like in 2010 and 2016.

“In the 2021 legislative session, our legislators decided that we should focus more on the percent of growth,” he said.  

Hauswald compared the issue to teaching every voter a middle school math problem.

The percentage that appears on the ballot will be calculated by comparing the proposed total tax rate with the referendum to the base tax rate without the referendum.

The county has a base property tax levy of 54 cents. Under the current referendum levy of 9 cents, property owners already pay 63 cents for every $100 of assessed value. The proposed referendum of 20.5 cents would raise the local rate to 74.5 cents, which is about 17 percent more than the current rate. However, under state law, this would appear as a 38 percent increase on the November ballot. 

MCCSC referendum equation
Chart showing how Indiana calculates language for school referenda in 2022. (Holden Abshier, WFIU/WTIU News

Hauswald said this is misleading because property owners already pay a higher rate under the active referendum.

“Every referendum is a new tax, and debt that drops off and taxes that drop off cannot be taken into consideration, according to the new law,” he said.

At 63 cents, Hauswald said MCCSC has the eighth lowest tax rate in Indiana. If the referendum passes, the district will remain in the lower 10 percent of all districts.

Want to contact your legislators about an issue that matters to you? Find out how to contact your senators and member of Congress here.

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