In August, after facing an angry crowd at a public hearing, the Tooele County School Board raised its property tax rate by 9.1 percent.
As a result the owner of a home valued at the county average of $150,000 paid an extra $69 in taxes for schools on their 2012 tax bill.
Shortly after the tax hike was approved, taxpayers were upset further when the Tooele County School Board revealed it had given Tooele County School District superintendent Terry Linares an unrequested 20 percent raise, boosting her annual salary to $128,500.
At the June meeting of the Tooele County School Board, Bruce Williams, business administrator, presented the proposed 2012-13 budget with the tax hike as his last act before leaving the district for a position with the Utah State Office of Education.
“The district has done its best at being frugal, reducing last year’s budget $2 million by reviewing expenditures and cutting costs,” Williams said.
Despite those measures, the tax increase was the only way to make up a $1.8 million shortfall in this year’s budget, according to Williams.
“The property tax increase will allow the district to balance the budget without reducing the fund balance,” Williams said. “The funds from the tax increase will be used to pay down debt for capital building projects that the district had been paying using capital equalization money from the state that had been drying up.”
Tooele County School District had allocated state capital outlay funds to its capital projects fund, and used that money to service debt related to the building of Grantsville Elementary, Copper Canyon Elementary and the Community Learning Center.
Taxpayers at the truth in taxation hearing held by the school board in August were not satisfied with the district’s rationalization for the tax increase.
Bryan Coulter, of Erda, was ready with suggestions of where to make new cuts.
“Cut all activities and clubs, sell the sports fields, go to Internet schools and shut down buildings and liquidate assets,” said Coulter. “I have had a 30 percent decrease in my pay over the last four years, but I pay $4,000 more in taxes to the government. We are paying through the nose and we are tired of it.”
Others were upset because the way state law sets tax rates their increase would be far greater than 9.1 percent.
Taxpayers whose assessed value of their real property did not drop this year will experience what Lark Reynolds, Tooele County School District business administrator, called the “double whammy.”
The certified rate, which is the tax rate that will produce the same amount of revenue, not including property generated by new growth, can rise significantly when property values drop.
The certified rate is based on the value of property as of the first of the year and is collected in November.
The median home value in Tooele County dropped from $169,861 as of January 2011 to $157,472 as of January 2012, and overall the total assessed value of real property in Tooele County dropped by 8.8 percent over that same time period, from $2.7 billion to $2.5 billion. That caused the certified rate to rise 11.5 percent from .008256 in 2011 to .009204 in 2012. The 9.1 percent increase implemented by the school board comes on top of that.
The owner of a $150,000 home in 2011 paid $681 in property taxes for schools in 2011. If the value of their home stayed at $150,000 in 2012, their tax bill for schools would increase to $828 in 2012. That represents a total tax increase of 21.7 percent in a single year.
Some board members tried unsuccessfully to reduce the proposed increase. Board member Karen Nelson offered an amendment to reduce the tax increase to 7.1 percent.
“When we adopted the tentative budget, we did not know what the certified tax rate would be,” said Nelson. “I would not have voted for something that would cause a 20 percent increase in some people’s tax. The 7.1 percent would still be a heavy burden, but it would help mitigate the impact a little.”
In the end, the board approved the 9.1 percent tax increase, claiming that the people at the meeting did not represent the majority of the public.
“I don’t want the silent majority to be overruled,” said Jeff Hogan, school board member. “The majority of my constituents, when I lay out the facts for them, support the tax increase.”
Other board members concurred with Hogan and voted 5-2 to adopt the 9.1 percent increase with Nelson and Jensen the only negative votes.
“We’ve cut millions out of the budget in the last four years while adding enough new students to fill two new elementary schools,” Bryan said “We have cut just about every possible way without affecting student instruction and the quality of education our students receive. The hard reality is if we want to keep class size stable we needed to increase the taxes this year.”