School stability hinges on $2.6M tax renewal

By Jason Hawk -

Roughly $13 million is at stake as the Amherst Schools ask voters to renew a 4.9 mill levy this spring.

The five-year operating cash issue will appear on the May 2 primary ballot.

Amherst educators aren’t asking for a tax hike; they’re looking to keep $2.6 million per year flowing into the district.

Set to expire at the end of the year, the existing levy is used for day-to-day expenses including salaries, classroom supplies, and utilities.

It costs taxpayers $12.50 per month for every $100,000 worth of property they own.

“If we were not to renew the operating levy, it would put a major dent in our district’s financial outlook,” said superintendent Steven Sayers. “If we don’t renew, we’re going to run out of money sooner rather than later.”

The Amherst Schools’ finances are stable through 2018. With the renewal, they would be in the black through at least 2021.

The renewal aims to keep funds originally approved by voters in November 2012.

If successful, Sayers said the district wouldn’t have to ask for an operating increase for the foreseeable future.

Every move the district makes is aimed at positioning the school system for long-term financial health, he said.

That includes construction of a new school on South Lake Street to replace Harris and Powers elementaries, approved by voters in November.

Putting prekindergarten through third grade under one roof is expected to save about $500,000 per year.

Treasurer Barbara Donohue is in the process of updating Amherst’s five-year forecast to reflect those savings.

The margin of victory for the new school — voters backed it 65 percent to 35 percent — has somewhat eased worries about the operating renewal’s chances.

Sayers said he hopes voters see the district working hard to control expenses while expanding educational offerings.

“We want to keep the momentum going. It’s a good time and lots of good things are happening in Amherst,” he said.

A state of the schools address will be delivered at 6:30 on Tuesday, April 4 at the MLS cafetorium. It will heavily focus on the levy and its impact on how the district moves forward.

Voters who reside within the Amherst city limits will also get to decide in May on a one-mill renewal for local firefighters.

That levy generates roughly $292,000 per year. Chief Greg Knoll said the cash isn’t for payroll, but for fire engine maintenance, new purchases, remodeling, and repairs.

He anticipates buying a new command vehicle this year at an estimated cost of $75,000. Purchasing new ladder or tanker trucks is a far more costly prospect — two new trucks will be needed in coming years at about $500,000 each — and requires saving for years on end.

Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.

By Jason Hawk