Cache County School District approves property tax increase

The Cache County School District is facing an 8.16 percent decrease in their budget in fiscal year 2012, and Board of Education members narrowly approved a budget and property tax increase proposal to help make up for the budget cut. While the board approved the FY 2012 budget proposal, which includes raising the property tax rate, the proposed increase must go through a Truth in Taxation hearing in August before being put into place. The tax increase would raise the .006543 certified tax rate to .006972, translating to less than 4 dollars more per month on a $200,000 house. The FY 2012 budget was approved at a Board of Education meeting Tuesday night. The vote was far from unanimous, with a small majority of four voting to support the proposed budget and three members voting against it. Board members Garrick Hall, Jonathan Jenkins and Bart Baird opposed the proposal. The approval came after a heated debate by board members on whether raising taxes was the way to balance the budget and fund projects and the K-3 reading program. Jenkins said, “The question here is not how do we not fund a program – I think everyone here wants to fund the program, I certainly do – but how do we do it without adding an additional burden on the people who are already strapped?” Board member Tamara Grange said that while she understands times are tough financially for many, a family could give up “a hamburger a month” to help keep the district going. The proposed tax increase would fund new buses for the district, the K-3 reading program and technology software licensing and maintenance. It would also go toward maintenance on the district’s facilities which have “continued to deteriorate,” said Dale Hansen, business administrator. Specifically, the district hasn’t purchased any new carpet in 3 years due to financial hardships and the schools’ roofs need attention. The district owns 120 buses, each having an average life of 23 years. If each bus is rotated out every 20 years, the district needs to purchase at least 7 buses a year. Because of budget cuts and the recession, the district has fallen behind in this cycle, unable to fund enough new buses. Even with the proposed property tax increase, the district would only be able to afford four buses next year. Buses are one big need of the district, and funding for the reading program is another. The state matches the dollar amount the district puts into the K-3 reading program. During the past seven years, the district has used money from the federal handicap funding, with the special education program’s understanding, to run the reading program. Superintendent Steven Norton said, “We’ve already saved the taxpayers of this district over $2 million by having special education pick up the cost, so I don’t think we need to apologize for how we’ve tried to keep that off the taxpayers for all these years.” With this year’s rounds of budget cuts, the special education budget can no longer afford to help the reading program, and if the district couldn’t find a way to fund the program it would also lose the state funding. The tax increase would allow the district to keep their reading program and allow the state to match the amount. Those who opposed the accepted budget plan had suggested an alternative. Jenkins proposed the district use money from a 17-year bond made in 2003 to fund the buses and other needs. He suggested money from the district’s undistributed reserve could be used to make up for budget reductions. Norton said Cache County School District already has one of the smallest reserves, or “savings,” in the state, and board member Brian Leishman said it would be “irresponsible to take such a slender reserve.” Grange also commented that using a bond to fund ongoing programs and financial needs was “not good financial management.” The board voted on Jenkins’ proposal, and Baird and Hall voted supported it, but this second proposal failed. The approved budget proposal deals with the cuts in many ways, such as reduced insurance benefits for employees and a 2 percent increase in student-to-teacher ratios. The budget does, however, fund an increase in steps and lanes. Norton said the district’s

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will contain information on the budget, and the board would be glad to explain the information to those with questions. –

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