Anti-tax sentiment was strong in the Firelands school district Tuesday as voters overwhelmingly said no to a plea for construction cash.
Final tallies just after 9 p.m. put the vote at 1,021 to 1,640, or 38 percent in favor of a massive school construction bid and 62 percent against.
Those results surprised Firelands board of education president Ben Gibson, who thought the district had won over support in recent months. “We feel the board listened to some of the statements made after the previous elections wanting to develop something that was more fair for some of the older people in the district and our large property owners,” he said.
This marks the third time in a year Firelands has failed to gain backing to build a new 6-12 grade school on Vermilion Road in Henrietta Township. This time around, educators sought a mix of income and property taxes in hopes of appealing to homeowners on fixed incomes and farmers hit by recent agricultural tax hikes.
The plan would have raised $29.5 million locally, allowing the district to accept a $6.2 million offer from the state facilities commission.
But after 13 months without successful local vote, that state offer has evaporated.
Unofficial special election totals came Tuesday from combined Erie and Lorain county vote totals. The district straddles the border between the two, taking in a patchwork of townships, South Amherst, and a small corner of the city of Amherst.
Erie County ballots showed 208 (36 percent) for the tax increase and 358 (64 percent) against it. Lorain County totals were 813 (39 percent) for the bond issue and 1,282 (61 percent) opposed.
“We did have more opposition this time. And I’m concerned about some of the data they were putting out there,” Gibson said, referencing fliers circulated touting money that could come as a result of the NEXUS pipeline.
Spectra Energy plans to build the natural gas line from eastern Ohio to Canada, passing through Lorain County on its way. The company claims Firelands could see millions of dollars in taxes from the project in the next five years.
Some voters feel Firelands educators are “hiding information or money from the taxpayers, which we certainly aren’t,” Gibson said.
NEXUS construction has faced tough scrutiny in the past two years over its impact on the environment and local property rights. He worries it could turn out to be a fairy tale, just like the Cleveland Quarries resort development that promised to pump billions into the local economy early in the 2000s but never materialized.
The Firelands school board will likely discuss the voting results and next steps when it meets at 7 p.m. Monday at South Amherst Middle School.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.
Jason Hawk | Amherst News-Times South Amherst Middle School has been at the center of repeated tax pleas by Firelands educators. The century-old building faces mounting repair costs.