Fredericktown Board of Education building

Board of education members and residents gathered in the Fredericktown board of education building, located at 117 Columbus Road, Tuesday evening. 

FREDERICKTOWN -- Debate about the revitalization of Fredericktown’s downtown comprised the majority of the village's board of education meeting this week.

The sole item on the board president consent agenda, the Downtown Redevelopment District proposal, drew questions and concerns from board members and residents in attendance, which included members of Fredericktown’s village council.

The Downtown Redevelopment District, or DRD, is a relatively new economic development mechanism in Ohio. It began in 2016 and allows municipalities to designate an area a DRD, and then the increase in assessed value of real property (improvements) to parcels within a DRD can be exempted.

The amounts exempted are paid as service payments in lieu of taxes, and those payments are then used to promote economic development through financing public infrastructure improvements and loans or grants to owners of buildings.

The municipal corporation can exempt up to a 70% increase in assessed value of the property within the DRD for up to 10 years, but the exemption can extend out to 30 years with the consent of the school district.

The main sticking point Tuesday: there is no guarantee the DRD proposal will work.

Council members argued if the community grows, the school grows.

“If we can improve the downtown and make this a place more people are going to want to come to live, that’s going to pay out dividends in the long run,” Shoemaker said. “And, it is a little bit of a risk, but it is such a low percent for what could be a big pay off.”

The project would represent less than 1% of total school budget, he said.

Board members argued DRD would require using school funds for a project that may not ultimately help schools. 

“We were elected to be good stewards of the school, not the village,” Todd McClay said.

Another key point of contention: the law does not define the ‘owner’ as used in the DRD, meaning it is unclear whether it means the owner of the physical building or the owner of the business that occupies (likely rents) the space.

“How would you holding the business proprietor harmless?” board vice president Jim Blanchard asked. 

Blanchard and others on the board raised the concern that property owners benefitting from a grant or loan through DRD, could then benefit again by raising rent, all through tax dollars. 

Circleville, Ohio, is one of the Ohio municipalities that has established a DRD, the first of which was established in 2016 and then four more DRD districts were added in 2019.  

Discussion lasted for nearly 45 minutes, and concluded with the board tabling the motion for a special meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 31, giving it time to take the ordinance to a legal opinion and conduct additional research.  

In other business, superintendent Susan Hayward spoke about the district’s COVID-19 health protocols going into the upcoming 2021-22 school year. 

Hayward released the district’s COVID-19 health guidelines on Aug. 5, which stated masks would be optional in classrooms but required on school buses, per federal mandate. Fredericktown Local Schools will not be offering online learning.

The district will be updating its heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system to improve ventilation, using funds from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief II grant. 

Due to contact tracing, the district will not be allowing visitors or volunteers in school buildings. However, there are no restrictions on spectators attending athletic events, following guidelines from the Ohio High School Athletic Association.

Hayward said school nurse Emily Sheriff is working on a video in which she will explain contact tracing protocols to parents, guardians and students. 

Also under the superintendent’s consent agenda, the board approved a resolution to receive bids to purchase two 71-passenger school buses. The resolution authorized META Solutions to advertise and receive bids on the board's behalf, but does not obligate the district to purchase the buses.

Other items included approving supplemental contracts, bus stops and exchange students for the 2021-22 school year. 

Regarding finances, treasurer Heather Darnold reported revenue exceeded expenditures for the month of July, and the board approved permanent appropriations totaling $1,418,230.60.

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Emma Davis is a 2021 graduate of the University of Richmond, from which she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and leadership studies. Emma reports for Knox Pages and Ashland Source through Report for America.

Emma Davis is a 2021 graduate of the University of Richmond, from which she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and leadership studies. Emma reports for Knox Pages and Ashland Source through Report for America.