OZone building

OZone USD 367 fitness center

OSAWATOMIE — A proposal to raise the USD 367 Recreation Commission mill levy has hit the reset button.

Osawatomie USD 367 school board members in May approved a request from the recreation commission to increase its mill levy, not to exceed three mills, beginning in the 2021 tax year. A protest petition was filed, forcing the matter to an election.

But because of the timing, the school district was not able to put the proposed mill increase on the Aug. 4 primary ballot, so the plan had to be scuttled, Superintendent Justin Burchett said.

“The timing on that was so short that we knew if we had a protest petition it wouldn’t be able to happen, because there wouldn’t be enough time to have a vote before the budget has to be turned in to the state of Kansas,” Burchett said. “We did have a protest petition. They collected enough signatures for that, so that basically made the proposed increase for the upcoming tax year null and void.”

The Osawatomie school board and recreation commission decided to try again and both entities have approved resolutions to adopt the same proposed increase in the USD 367 Recreation Commission’s property tax mill levy, beginning with the 2022 tax year. If approved the first increase would be applied to property tax bills in December 2021.

Because it’s a different resolution, a new protest petition would be required, and it would have to be circulated and filed within 30 days of the last printing of the legal notice, which would make the petition deadline Aug. 28.

“If there is a (successful) protest petition it would be on the November general election ballot,” Burchett said.

The November general election is the only election in which the district wouldn’t have to pay for a special election,he said.

The proposed increase was brought forth in the hopes it would help the recreation commission shoulder more of its own expenses. For the past five years, the recreation commission has been operating at about an $80,000 to $85,000 annual deficit, Burchett said.

The recreation commission has remained afloat by using about $60,000 of district funds and $20,000 in grant funding to cover this annual deficit, Burchett said.

Before 2015, the mill levy the city of Osawatomie dedicated to recreation programming provided the recreation commission with about $100,000 annually, Burchett said. In 2015, USD 367 patrons voted to create a school district-sponsored recreation commission with a mill levy of one mill, which basically cut the recreation commission’s revenue stream in half because one mill generates about $50,000 annually in the school district.

The vote took place at a time when the cost of recreation programming increased due to higher operating expenses associated with a new outdoor pool facility.

Burchett said the cash-strapped school district would be hard-pressed to maintain current recreation programming at the one mill funding level.

The Osawatomie Recreation Commission is seriously underfunded when compared to other communities in the area, Burchett said.

“We looked at the surrounding communities and the rec mill levies — we are by far underfunded compared to all the surrounding USD recreational programs,” Burchett said. “Louisburg is the only one comparable at one mill. But one mill in Louisburg generates $140,000 and one mill in Osawatomie last year was $53,000. So really we needed almost three mills to match what Louisburg was doing with one mill.”

Even though the proposed increase calls for a maximum of three mills, the levy could fluctuate but not go over three mills, the superintendent said.

“The resolution would take it to three as a maximum,” Burchett said. “It’s just like USDs. You watch your cash balances. You watch your mill levies.

“If cash balances are growing you need to lower your mill levies. If your cash balance is falling you may need to raise your mill levies,” he said. “We don’t have much cash to start with so we really have to watch those things.”

If the mill increase is approved, the money the school district has been using to supplement the recreation commission could be allocated to address deferred maintenance needs, according to the district.

Some of those items include:

  • Replacement of OHS and OMS wooden bleachers
  • HVAC repair on the OZone indoor pool
  • OMS parking repairs on the north side of the property
  • Trojan Elementary sidewalk repairs on both sides of the building
  • Repairs to eliminate leaking roofs at OHS and Trojan Elementary
  • Foundation repairs at OHS to mitigate/repair damage caused by swelling floors and footings
  • Replace damaged steps at OHS with handicap accessible entries
  • Replace outdated and inefficient HVAC systems at OHS/OMS with energy efficient systems
  • Repair shower stall tiling at the OZone

“There’s not a lot we can do to correct the recreation deficit that doesn’t involve trying to get more revenue into the stream,” Burchett said. “So the first step there is looking at the recreation mill levy.”

News Editor Doug Carder can be reached at (913) 294-2311 or doug.carder@miconews.com.

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