Tooele County School District will spend less money in 2018, but the property tax rate for schools may still go up, according to school district data.
The Tooele County School Board took a first look at the school district’s 2017-18 budget at their Tuesday night meeting at the school district office.
Total expenses for all of the school district’s accounting funds for the 2017-18 school year is expected to be $152 million. That’s down from the anticipated total of $165 million for the current year.
A big driver of the overall decrease is a $17 million decrease in capital projects, due a wind-down of construction for two new elementary schools, according to Lark Reynolds, the school district’s business administrator.
While the district’s financial position is strengthening — with a projected overall increase of nearly $6.6 million in the total balance of all funds for 2017 — there is a downside to the 2017-18 budget, according to Reynolds.
Version 1 of the 2017-18 budget included a 4-percent increase in property tax revenue with no projected increase in the property tax rate.
Reynolds explained that along with revenue from new growth, the school district has kept its tax rate level for the last few years, resulting in an increase in property tax revenue as property values increased.
However, Reynolds was surprised to find that recent information from Tooele County on property values shows that the school district’s tax base will shrink slightly, instead of grow, for the 2017-18 budget.
While total adjusted real property values in Tooele County — residences, land and most businesses — have increased by 7.8 percent, the value of centrally assessed property has dropped by 8.6 percent and personal property by 43.5 percent.
The net result is a $32.4 million decrease or 0.9 percent drop in the 2017 adjusted certified tax value.
Personal property largely consists of equipment owned by businesses. Depreciation or removal of property from closed businesses may cause a decline in personal property values, according to Reynolds.
Centrally assessed properties include property for mines, utilities and railroads. These properties are assessed by the state and then the state assigns a portion of the value to each county.
Some centrally assessed property in Tooele County includes property owned by Intrepid Potash, Kennecott Utah Copper, Pacific Corp, Questar, Sprint, Nextel, T-Mobile, AT&T Mobility, Cargill Salt, and Morton Salt.
The decrease in the overall property value means that the certified property tax rate, which is the property tax rate that will generate essentially the same amount of property tax revenue for the school district as the previous year, will go up, according to Reynolds.
“I will need to revise the budget to reflect the change before the June 20 public hearing for the budget,” he said.
Also, the school district’s general fund expenses for 2018 will increase by $4.7 million, or a 4.9 percent increase.
The increase is largely due to a change in how State School Land Trust funds are accounted for and a salary increase for teachers.
School Land Trust funds are money generated from state lands, which are allocated by the state to specific schools. Each school’s community council, with the approval of the school board, allocates the funds.
In the past, Tooele County School District has included the funds in the student activity fund, which is used for funds generated and kept at the building level.
The Utah State School Board has directed the school district to move the funds to the general fund in the 2017-18 budget.
The general fund budget also includes an overall 8.5 percent increase in teacher compensation as a result of the recently announced increase in teachers’ salaries.
Starting in the fall of 2018, a first year teacher’s salary in the Tooele County School District will go up from $33,142 to $37,000.
The salary increase is in response to a nationwide teacher shortage that has caused some school districts in Utah to raise their starting salaries to over $40,000, according to Tooele County School District Superintendent Scott Rogers.
“We are in a highly competitive market based on a statewide and national shortage of teachers,” Rogers said.
All current teachers will receive an increase as the salary schedule is adjusted upward with the new starting salary.
The total expense for salaries increased by 8.5 percent, but that doesn’t mean all teachers will receive an 8.5 percent increase, according to Rogers.
The salary increase will be funded by an increase in state funding and using some of the school district’s general fund balance for the 2017-18 year, not property taxes, Rogers said.
The Tooele County School District will hold a public hearing on the proposed 2017-18 budget on June 20 at 7 p.m. in the board meeting room at the district office located at 92 S. Lodestone Way in Tooele City.