Voters to decide whether to raise own taxes to pay off disabled neighbor
May. 05, 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 Ross Wurm 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.