Athens City Council discussed a school levy for the Athens City School District and the possibility of partnering with Drive Ohio to become test site for driverless vehicles during the Monday night meeting.
The school levy, which will be voted on in November, includes plans to build two new elementary schools and a new high school and renovate Athens Middle School and The Plains Elementary School. The levy would also fund reconfiguration of the elementary schools to include grades K-3 and make The Plains Elementary School grades 4-6. That also includes other locally funded initiatives which concern funds for safety and security improvements, new tennis courts and an auditorium for the new Athens High School.
Tom Gibbs, the superintendent of Athens City School District said the bond issue is for $60.5 million, which covers the local share. If voters support the levy, the state would provide a 32 percent match for the rest of the project, amounting to more than $30 million.
“(The facilities) are outdated and in many cases have poor performing or constantly needing maintenance significant systems problems,” Gibbs said.
The amount of money Athens residents pay is dependent on the value of their home. It would be $206 per year for every $100,000 of home value.
Later, members of the transportation committee discussed signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the city and DriveOhio regarding Athens as a test site for autonomous or driverless vehicles.
If Athens is selected, there would be a loop established for an electric-powered, driverless transit shuttle to drive on streets with speed limits of 25 mph or under. The loop would allow DriveOhio to test the use of autonomous vehicles with geography and population density.
“This is all kind of in its infancy, so we are trying to sign up for something that could leave behind some infrastructure that would be paid by the state within the city of Athens,” Peter Kotses, D-At Large, said.
Athens Mayor Steve Patterson said that they are exploring multiple routes in Athens which could include Stimson Avenue, Mill Street, South Green Drive, West Union and other streets throughout the city. Those shuttles would have a human operator on board.
Members also discussed the implementation of new state government regulations and budget cuts that are affecting local government funds.
Councilman Jeff Risner D-2nd Ward said Ohio Governor John Kasich is proposing to use a projected budget surplus to fund a tax break.
“These cuts have really really hurt local municipalities budgets,” Risner said. “As most people know we derive a majority of our city income from our city income tax but to make up the difference, and there is a significant difference, we have relied on the local government funds.”
Patterson said he will be writing a letter to Kasich to ask about those funds. He said that 10 years ago Athens received more than $900,000 from the state but now only receive about $350,000.
“Basically what the Kasich administration is talking about is another transfer of wealth from poor communities like Athens, Athens County, Marietta, Portsmouth, and giving another tax break to wealthy people who don't need it,” Councilwoman Chris Fahl, D-4th Ward, said. “There is supposed to be an economic revitalization through the nation, but it hasn’t come and percolated down to us.”