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Voters to decide whether to raise own taxes to pay off disabled neighbor

May 5, 1997

PAYNE, Ohio (AP) _ Donald Buchman was driving on a back road with his family when the school bus pulled in front of his station wagon. The collision crushed the roof of Buchman’s car, leaving him a quadriplegic.

Now, more than seven years later, his neighbors are in a quandary.

Residents of the 1,300-pupil Wayne Trace School District will decide Tuesday whether to raise their property taxes for the next quarter-century or force the district to consider service cuts so it can pay $5.6 million to Buchman.

While many say they feel for Buchman, paying him off by raising their own taxes is another matter.

``Accidents happen and this was a bad one. But the people should not be paying for this accident,″ said Jackie Wyckoff, 56. ``That’s just not fair.″

The district has asked voters to raise property taxes by $121,000 a year, the equivalent of about $31 more for an owner of a $50,000 home.

Buchman was a 29-year-old construction foreman when the bus appeared ahead of him on a Friday afternoon in 1989. His neck was broken in the accident, and his wife and two sons were injured. No children were on the bus.

Every penny of the district’s $1 million in liability insurance went to Buchman, who was in hospitals for a year and borrowed from friends and family to meet the expenses.

Struggling to pay soaring medical bills, Buchman sued. In 1992, a jury awarded him $5.1 million in compensatory damages.

Buchman remembers anonymous phone callers who used obscene language and accused him of taking money from their kids; it didn’t surprise him when district voters rejected a proposed tax increase to pay the bill.

The Ohio Supreme Court later reduced Buchman’s award to $4.9 million but ordered the district to pay interest, bringing the figure up to $5.6 million.

State officials have offered to loan the district the money, which would be repaid by withholding $121,000 in state education funds each year for 25 years. The deal awaits the approval of the Legislature.

This week’s vote is to have property owners make up that annual $121,000 shortfall, which equals 2.5 percent of the district’s annual budget.

``It was just too great a risk not to accept the state’s offer,″ Superintendent Ken Doseck said. ``As a matter of fact, it would have been irresponsible of us not to accept.″

Meanwhile, Buchman waits.

``People don’t understand the financial strain that my family has been under,″ he said.

Buchman said most of his neighbors have been supportive: ``They have had shown no malice. They know it was an accident.″

Mayor Ted Rosswurm said he will vote for the increase.

``The school board did the best they could, and I’m hoping the community will back them 100 percent,″ he said.

That seems unlikely.

``If they can’t deduct $121,000 from their annual budget, then they need to take a hard look at their financial polices. Period,″ district member George Slade said.

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