Utah school districts weigh tax hikes
Grappling with budget shortfalls, eight Utah school districts are planning to boost property taxes this month.
On the Wasatch Front, Salt Lake City, Davis and Weber County school boards are weighing tax increases. In rural Utah, school districts for Beaver, Daggett, Garfield, Morgan and Rich counties plan to bump their tax rates.
But Beaver and Daggett school officials say other school levies are declining so taxpayers won't notice an increase on their bills.
Even so, taxpayers in all eight districts will get to offer their two cents at public hearings this month. Before school boards can officially vote to raise taxes, they are required by state law to consider public opinion at a truth-in-taxation hearing.
Last year, 10 of Utah's 41 school districts opted for tax increases.
Larry Newton, finance director for the State Office of Education, said he is surprised more school districts aren't turning to taxpayers this year.
"I would have expected a lot more," he said. "School districts are going through a third year of waves of reductions."
Schools have received less funding from the state and federal governments. In Utah, property taxes generate about 20 percent of public education dollars, with the remainder coming from state (70 percent) and federal sources (10 percent).
Davis School District is considering the largest tax hike $12.9 million. The district faced a $31 million shortfall for the 2010-11 year.
The district has already pared down the budget, shortening the school year by two days, upping average class sizes by one student, and letting go of 90 teachers with one-year contracts and 11.5 reading specialists.
"We're not like a factory that can add another shift to make more widgets to increase the bottom line," said Davis spokesman Chris Williams. "We're a very people-intensive business so, when we're looking at cutting costs, it doesn't take long to start affecting people."
A recent survey of 400 Davis County residents, commissioned by the district, found that two-thirds were willing to pay up to $100 more a year in taxes to support schools. The proposed increase would add $109 to the property-tax bill for a $227,000 home.
Salt Lake City residents, on average, could see a $17 spike. The district plans to take advantage of a change in state law that allows districts to use a transportation levy more broadly. Salt Lake City wants to impose the levy for the first time, generating $1.5 million to cover the cost of busing students to school. The funds will plug part of the district's $9.5 million shortfall.
Rich School District, which has 450 students attending schools in Laketown and Randolph, also plans to boost its transportation tax. Over the past few years, state funding for buses has dropped from 80 percent to 53 percent of the district's transportation budget, said Superintendent Dale Lamborn.
"We're transporting [kids] from the Idaho border to the Wyoming border," Lamborn said. "We've been as conservative with our routes as we can be and still get the kids here."
Last year, transportation costs comprised nearly one-third of Rich's $1.4 million operations budget. The proposed tax increase would generate $220,000.
Morgan County School District primarily is raising taxes to pay for a reading teacher at its second elementary school, Mountain Green, that opened two years ago.
Tribune reporter Cathy McKitrick contributed to this story.
School boards in eight Utah districts must hold truth-in-taxation hearings before they vote on proposed increases.
Beaver County School District
Hearing • Aug. 12, 2 p.m., 291 N. Main St., Beaver.
Revenue expected • $640,901 annually.
Impact • $36.13 a year on a $100,000 home.*
Hearing • Aug. 10, 6 p.m., 196 W. Second North, Manila.
Revenue expected • $133,133 annually.
Impact • $43.97 a year on a $150,000 home.*
Davis School District
Hearing • Aug. 17, 6 p.m., 45 E. State St., Farmington.
Revenue expected • $12.9 million.
Impact • $109.37 a year on a $227,000 home.
Garfield County School District
Hearings • Aug. 10, 6 p.m., Panguitch High; Aug. 11, 6 p.m., Bryce Valley High; Aug. 12, 6 p.m., Escalante High.
Revenue expected • $196,957 annually.
Impact • $30.11 on a $150,000 home.
Morgan County School District
Hearing • Aug. 10, 7:30 p.m., 240 E. Young St., Morgan.
Revenue expected • $107,198 annually. Impact • $20.09 a year on a $281,000 home.
Rich School District
Hearing • Aug. 11, 6 p.m., 100 W. 25 South, Randolph.
Revenue expected • $220,216 annually.
Impact • $16.37 a year on a $123,456 home.
Salt Lake City School District
Hearing • Aug. 10, 7 p.m., 440 E. 100 South, Salt Lake City.
Revenue expected • $2 million.
Impact • $17.48 on a $250,000 home.
Weber School District
Hearing • Aug. 31, 6 p.m., 5320 S. Adams Avenue Parkway, Ogden.
Revenue expected • $2.8 million.
Impact • $39.37 a year on a $175,000 home.
*Decreases in other school levies will keep property owners' bills from going up.
Source: District notices for truth-in-taxation hearings.