Voters to cast ballots Feb. 4 in school district leeway election
A leeway election authorized by the Carbon County Board of Education will take place Feb. 4.
During the two months since the election was initially proposed, rumors have circulated around the community about what the increase in property taxes would be and what the money would be used for if the leeway passes.
The present levy rate is .005829. The board is asking local voters to authorize an increase of .0011 to raise the rate to .006929.
According to school district literature, the proposed increase would cost the owner of a $100,000 house an additional $61 per year or $5.08 per month.
For business owners, taxes for a $100,000 company would increase $110 per year or $9.17 per month.
"We need the increase to attract and maintain highly qualified teachers," stated Superintendent David Armstrong. "What people don't realize is that teachers have been using money working here during the last couple of years. Without this, we will continue to lose teachers and will not be able to attract the quality of personnel we need to the district."
Armstrong explained that the voted leeway will be used for a number of things. But the focus is closely related to keeping the teaching staff and school personnel whole financially.
Part of what is causing the financial distress is the same bugaboo that is affecting the majority of the residents in the community - health insurance costs.
"When I came here to apply for this job three years ago, the district had the reputation for having one of the best school district health insurance programs in the state," noted Armstrong. "When they offered me the position and I returned, suddenly it changed. That year, the school personnel had to start paying $50 per month for their insurance, as before the entire amount was paid by the district. That took away most of any increase they may have gotten in salary. Then the next year the deductible and co-pays went up as well as if they wanted to keep their insurance at the same rate they had to buy up even more. If nothing is done, in the next couple of years teachers will have to take a direct cut in pay and that will only complicate a difficult situation even more."
The superintendent pointed out that health insurance costs will go up a minimum of 14 percent and may go as high as 20 percent for the current year.
The school district would also use the additional tax money generated by the proposed leeway increase to:
Maintain current class sizes, rather than cutting personnel to meet the budget and giving individual teachers more students.
Restore a teacher for the gifted and talented program.
Provide a reading specialist for every elementary school in the county.
Make a full day of kindergarten available to students in the entire county education system.
Attract trained and certified people to substitute in the schools.
The last increase in the Carbon County leeway was passed on April 26, 1956. Most districts in the state have had numerous leeway elections since that time.
If the proposed increase passes, Carbon's tax rate will go from near the bottom in the state to slightly higher than average, placing the county at number 13 on the list.
"However, Jordan and Granite school districts are both having leeway votes that same day," noted Armstrong. "If those both pass, instead of being a little above average, we will actually be below it, even with the increase."
When the idea for a voted leeway first came before the board of education, one of the issues raised was the number of senior citizens who live in the county and how the proposed tax increase could affect residents on fixed incomes.
The superintendent was also concerned about the matter and pointed out that there are programs for tax relief for seniors should such an increase be a burden.
"Those senior citizens on fixed income can apply for relief through a circuit breaker program with the county," noted Armstrong. "If they have an income under $23, 800, they are eligible. That minimum amount may be raised by the legislature this year too."
The Utah Taxpayers Association has come out against the majority of increases proposed in the state and the Carbon County School District's voted leeway vote is no exception.
"We realize the needs that the district faces due to the economy and the cuts in state funding," pointed out Chad Vanderlinden of the association on Wednesday morning. "But we feel, considering that economy, that it is not time to raise taxes."
The board of education will send informational brochures to all Carbon County residents next week detailing the proposed increase and the district's plans for spending the revenues. The polling places in the county that will be open on Feb. 4 are listed on the back of the pamphlet.