School taxes to go up 4 percent

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By Robin Bass

The school board voted to raise property taxes to 58.1 cents following a hearing Wednesday night despite the superintendent’s public statement last week that he would recommend a lower rate. The increase is about four percent above current taxes and is expected to generate an additional $292,000 for the school district.

Homeowners of a $150,000 house should anticipate paying another $31.50 – for a total of $871.50 in property taxes to the school district. This rate will only apply to real estate and tangible assets. Motor vehicle taxes would remain at 56 cents per $100 of assessed value, while utilities would continue to collect three percent in school taxes.

Board member Mary Ann Carden said that to take any less would “tie the hands of future boards” and that the school board took “a big chance” last year by approving only a two percent increase. Because of state funding cuts, Carden said, salaries have been cut, technology updates have been neglected and the school grounds maintenance has suffered.

“We are running on a shoestring budget,” said Carden, adding later that she believes it is residents’ civic responsibility to pay for public education.

Of the $21 million in federal, state and local funds budgeted by the school district, nearly $5.5 million is generated through local real estate and personal property taxes. The $292,000 in additional revenue from the tax increase will inch the local contribution to almost $5.8 million.

“I’m really torn,” said board member Sandy Clevenger. “I think we are all strapped (for money) and I’m worried that if this tax is passed, we need to make sure it goes to something that can make a difference.”

Superintendent Chuck Adams agreed with Carden about needs in technology and said Friday that he would recommend spending $100,000 in new tax money on a server and about 20 switches. Adams said taxpayers would not be able to touch or see these technology infrastructure improvements, but the result would mean faster, more efficient computers for teachers and students. As for the remaining funds generated by the tax increase, the superintendent said portions will be distributed to the district’s building, transportation and instruction funds, but offered no further specifics.

“It’s not that we don’t need the money. I know we do,” said Vice Chairman Scott Travis, “but I can’t go to voters in my district and ask for more.”

Travis, who was the only board member to vote against the tax increase, said he would rather see the district try to accomplish their goals without asking residents for more money.

“It’s a bad time to raise taxes,” said Travis referring to the state’s unemployment rate. “This is going to affect everyone negatively.”

Citizens who spoke at Wednesday night’s public hearing were split on the tax proposal. 

“I’ve heard lots of people talk about the need for more money, but I haven’t heard one person talk about where we can cut,” said Dan Pharris. “I went two years without a raise and only got 1.8 percent this year. These are bad economic times and people are hurting. We’re expected to cut our budgets and perform better with less, why shouldn’t the schools do with less?”

Taylorsville resident Diane Black told the school board she does not see how the district manages to accomplish what they do with so little.

“I know some people are struggling, but it’s so vital for us to support education in Spencer County,” said Black, a former school board member. She encouraged the board to vote for the four percent increase simply because of the uncertainty of state funding.

Hope Goodlett-Sedlock said that even though she’s unemployed with two kids, she was for the increase because her children deserved better – especially, newer buses.

Resident Anita Chamberlain disagreed.

“I don’t think (the school district) needs any more money. You’re already getting taxes off my water bill, my light bill, my cell phone and home phone bill. I’m about to lose my house and you want to raise taxes on me? I wouldn’t mind the tax if the product was doing well, but scores are not where they should be. Don’t raise my taxes,” said Chamberlain.

Adams recommended the board take a three percent increase. The board approved 4-1 to increase real estate and tangibles by nearly four percent at the rate of 58.1. A full four percent would have equaled 58.2 cents per $100 of assessed value. Adams said the district chose to not take the exoneration rate of an additional 0.1 cents “to give something back to taxpayers.” Taxes generated by 0.1 cents would have amounted to just over $10,000 – or  $1.50 on a $150,000 home.