HAMILTON — Hamilton Community Schools Superintendent Tony Cassel is recommending a property tax increase of 44 cents per $100 of property value to ensure that the schools stay open.
Cassel made his recommendation during a work session of the Hamilton Community Schools board Monday night. About 20 members of the public attended the session.
Next Monday, July 15, the board will adopt a resolution that states the amount of a proposed property tax increase that will be included in a referendum question on the November election ballot.
The 44-cent rate recommended by Cassel is the same as the current rate that was approved by a referendum in 2012 and expires at the end of this year. If approved, the rate will continue for eight years.
The district is pursuing a second referendum on a proposed property tax increase to operate the schools, after a failed referendum last November. Residents in the district voted last fall against increasing property taxes by 71 cents per $100 of property value. The rate would have replaced the current 44-cent level.
Cassel said a 44-cent rate would be a “neutral tax shift’ and is a “significant reduction” from the 71-cent rate proposed last year.
When the current referendum rate ends in December, unless voters approve a new rate, the district will have a projected $1.7 million shortfall next year, Cassel said.
“If the referendum does not pass in November, the class of 2020 will be the last class to walk across the stage. There’s not a reprieve.
“If you hear people out there say, ‘They’ve said it before,’ tell them to call me. I’ll show them our books. We’re in do or die right now.”
Cassel said the proposed 44-cent rate is sufficient to continue operating the district. He noted that the district has managed to build up its rainy day fund, which has a balance of over $1 million. Cassel said the rainy day fund gives the district flexibility should an unexpected expenditure occur.
Cassel said at the end of the school year in May, district enrollment was at 301 students, up from 282 students at the end of the school year in May 2018. Enrollment was at 286 students at the beginning of the school year in August 2018.
“We feel like we have the people in place and staff in place to start building something,” Cassel said of student enrollment.
“Do I think we can go higher than 301 (students)? I sure do … I think we can continue to trend up.”
The previously-proposed 71-cent referendum rate was based on projected birth rates and did not take into account student transfers or move-ins, Cassel said.
That, accompanied with cost-savings measures the district has implemented, has permitted him to recommend the lower rate, he added.
To promote support for the referendum, Cassel said, there will be walks of the community this fall, as well as state-of-the-school meetings that will resume in August. The district also will ensure it has a “presence” at community events, Cassel added.