Joseph Regano, superintendent of Solon City Schools, said Solon has become “a destination community” as a result of its strong school system.

But the excellence of Solon schools – which have earned the No. 1 Ohio report card rating the past three years – could be in jeopardy if Issue 8, an 8.5-mill operating levy, does not pass.

Also on the May 8 ballot, Solon voters will be asked to weigh in on Issue 14, a proposed zoning amendment that would change the zoning classification of a commercial district in the city to senior residential.

Issue 8 is an incremental levy that would be phased in over two years: first by recapturing 1.6 mills of retired bond debt beginning next year at no additional cost to homeowners, and then adding 6.9 mills for collection beginning in 2020. The first 1.6 mills are equal to the millage amount the Solon school board recently authorized to come off the tax rolls.

The net impact to taxpayers would be 6.9 mills, the same as nearly all Solon schools operating levies in past years, Regano said.

“This was done in an effort to keep dollars in our taxpayers’ pockets as long as possible,” he said. “Our district is currently realizing an annual operating net loss.

“This loss will continue to grow over the years if not addressed. By levying dollars sooner rather than later, this helps prevent a greater millage levy need.”

The need for the tax increase at this time, Regano said, is due to the combination of two primary factors: the loss of Tangible Personal Property tax revenues in the amount of $6 million per year, and the fact that Solon City Schools has not had an operating levy on the ballot since 2010.

Solon’s TPP reimbursements, originally collected from local industry, have been reduced from $10.7 million in 2011 to $4.8 million this year.

About $10,250,000 would be generated if the levy passes, Regano said, and that revenue would help pay for the ongoing operating needs of the district.

The district has been able to stay off the ballot for eight years – twice as long as a typical levy cycle – for several key reasons, Regano said.

“Decreased enrollment allowed for a reduction in staff, as well as a reduction of one K-4 building (Arthur Road Elementary School),” he said. “The district has also received tremendous cooperation with our staff via negotiated agreements. This includes multiple-year complete salary freezes, changes in the insurance benefit structure and a reduced secondary salary schedule for our employees.”

If Issue 8 fails, Solon City Schools would have to come back to voters again, possibly in November, with another attempt to pass the levy, Regano said.

“Without a levy passing in the near term, we would be forced to make tough decisions regarding the programming and operations of the district,” he said. “This levy will enable the district to maintain our excellent academic and extracurricular programs for students.”

Regano believes the Solon schools are the primary reason families choose to move to the community.

“The city is a destination community for businesses as well,” he said. “In this era of accountability, the Solon schools are meeting the independent measures of quality and high performance while also being fiscally responsible to the community.”

Zoning change sought

With Issue 14, Solon seeks a change in zoning because the Beachwood-based Omni Group Development Co. has proposed a senior living community in what is now a commercially zoned district of the city, Solon Mayor Edward H. Kraus said.

The area in question is about 5.4 acres, east of the intersection of Kruse Drive and Bainbridge Road. The main entrance would likely by on Kruse Drive, Kraus said.

It’s located in Solon’s Ward 6, so Issue 14 would have to pass both citywide and in that ward.

Omni Development, which specializes in senior housing in Ohio, is proposing a mixture of independent living, assisted living and some memory care units for the site, Kraus said.

“It would be a full-service living facility for senior citizens,” he said. “We don’t have enough senior living facilities, and this certainly helps. It’s something the city desperately needs.”

Kraus said if the issue passes, the zoning would be permanently changed to “senior citizen residential.”

“The reason we do that is if the developer decides to sell the property, it can only be specifically used for senior housing,” he said.

If Issue 14 fails, the land would remain zoned for commercial use, and the senior living facility would probably not happen, Kraus said.

“I think they (Omni) like this location because you can walk to shopping and there are a multitude of amenities in the area,” he said.

Ed Wittenberg is a freelance writer from Cleveland Heights.

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