Board of education fields tax questions
The Carbon County Board of Education fielded complaints from residents last Wednesday about large increases on property tax notices. But concerns raised by the public did not deter the board from accepting the leeway tax approved by voters last February.
In the election, the vote tally authorized the school district to raise the levy to the maximum .0011 level. The measure was approved 1,031 to 1,006. Of the county's 13,085 registered voters, only 2,037 or slightly more than 15 percent of the citizens cast ballots at the polls.
According to the district, the increase in the mill levy would mean the owner of a $100,000 house would pay an increase of $60 to $70 per year in property taxes. A business with the same value would pay about $110.
It was the county school district's first voted leeway since 1956.
According to state law, the board had to conduct a truth in taxation meeting before implementing the voted leeway. Last Wednesday's gathering was a chance for residents to express opinions about the tax. Some residents came armed with tax notices, while others wondered how a leeway works.
"I want to know if this is an increase in taxes or an additional tax," asked Grant Howell of Helper. "I am concerned about some things we have heard about how this is an additional tax above what was voted for."
The question was posed by several residents due to rumors that the voted leeway included a second tax.
School district business administrator William Jewkes explained in the meeting that the tax is only a leeway increase.
During an interview on Aug. 20, Jewkes said the district's attorney was consulted about the existing leeway when officials decided to ask for the vote in February. The district's prior voted leeway was set at .000188. The new voted leeway would be for .0011, a considerable increase.
According to Jewkes, the district was advised by counsel that the old leeway would remain viable. Therefore, funds generated by the new leeway would be in addition to the money raised by the old tax.
Shortly after the election, Jewkes contacted the Utah Tax Commission to arrange the change in the voted measure and learned that the old voted leeway would be eliminated.
"How the legal advertisement runs determines whether a district can keep the old voted leeway in addition to the new one," says Lamar Sayer of the Utah State Tax Commission. "It all depends on the language used in the ad."
Officials scrambled to find a way to make up the difference, which would have left the district short on funds for increases in salary, benefits and the full-time kindergarten positions the district planned to creating with the revenues.
The board of education found a way to do make up the difference with a tool provided by the law, but likely has never been used in Carbon School District. The tool is a board leeway.
"The board has the ability to levy its own leeway and so it used that ability to make up the funds," noted Jewkes.
The action was taken March 12 at a regular public meeting. The board imposed a .000188 levy which will generate an estimated $249,860.
At the time, board member Walt Borla asked if the action could be done without having a public hearing. State law requires that the action be listed on the agenda and taken during a regular board meeting. No public hearing or truth in taxation meeting is required.
According to the law, a board could hike a levy up to as much as .000400 with the process, more than twice the level the Carbon education officials decided to impose.
"Actually, when all was said and done, the entire voted and board levy amounted to .0010 instead of .0011," stated Jewkes. "That is actually less than what the citizens voted to approve."
But most of the questions raised at the board meeting were about the actual increases in dollars residents will pay in November when taxes come due.
Beverly Howard from the Carbonville area addressed the board of education members regarding the substantial increase in property taxes.
"Last year, my taxes were $18 and, this year, they are $512," commented Beverly Howard. "If the tax you proposed was only going to be $55 on a $100,000 property, how come mine went up so much?"
Pete Howard also voiced concern about the tax increases.
"It's getting to the point of deciding between buying groceries and the drugs I need," stated Pete Howard. "My taxes went up 96 percent over last year."
Only part of the property taxes on the notice have to do with the school district, explained Jewkes. And if the entire tax bill went up, the increase may be due to other factors.
In many cases, citizens raising the concerns live recently reassessed areas of the county, particularly Carbonville.
Jay Dinkelman asked the board whether the leeway money would be used for general expenses of be directed primarily to teachers for raises.
"The increases all went to personnel," said Jewkes. "Much of it went to salary increases and benefit costs for all district personnel, while the rest went toward hiring teachers for full day kindergarten in the elementary schools."
Many residents at the meeting worried about accountability for the money. Several commented about how the district offices had been completed and furnished. Others said they had children in school years ago and some classes lacked text books.
"This tax increase has cost me $1,000," indicated Scott Wheeler. "My pockets are getting empty and I just want to be sure it is being used correctly. I am not sure at what point to say you can't take more of my money."
After the hearing concluded, several residents continued to question the way the school district conducted the leeway election and how local citizens had little advance knowledge regarding the matter.
According to the Utah Taxpayers Association, special elections like the local one in February are frequently a problem in many areas of the state.
"We believe that special tax elections lack credibility," indicated Chad Vanderlinden, a research analyst for the independent public policy organization. "Tax questions, leeway votes and bonds should be voted on during November elections when more voters turn out."