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Board votes to pass increased taxes

Article Date: 
17 August, 2012 (All day)

Soon after parents buy the new school clothes, pack the backpacks, and pay registration fees, they will be facing another school-related expense: new taxes.  On a split 3-2 vote, the Morgan County School Board narrowly passed a tax that will increase the property tax on a $200,000 home $14.96 a year. 
The state has increased taxes separate from the district, amounting in an additional $74.58 increase on a $200,000 home.
The new rate will be collected this year and produce $100,000 the school district plans to use as a contingency fund in case of emergencies.  The board’s current $13.5 million budget includes no provisions for contingencies and emergencies, Boardmember Bruce Galbraith said.
The board also voted to prepare for a voted leeway to appear on the ballot June 2013.  Boardmembers agreed that a voted leeway is the only long-term solution to the budget crisis the district faces.
“The work has just begun,” Galbraith said.  “We want to make sure the voted leeway is understood by all.  We will be at every area talking and presenting (before the June vote).”
Boardmember Niel Carrigan, who voted against the increased tax, warned the board that increasing taxes now would hurt their chances of getting voters to pass the leeway in June.
Skinner agreed.
“I worry since we need the voted leeway so much, if we increase taxes this year, it could be a rally point for people to vote against the leeway,” Skinner said.  “But this is the only option we have.”
Boardmember Ken Durrant, who also voted against the tax, said the new tax would do little to help the district’s overall financial troubles.
“This tax increase doesn’t get teachers any more money, won’t put more teachers in the classroom,” Durrant said.  “I hope you won’t think that the teachers are saved and you are going to have 30 kids in classrooms.  Next year will be even worse.  There is no easy way around this.”
Boardmembers are worried that the economy has not rebounded as expected, state tax revenues are decreasing, assessed valuations of homes in the county are on the downward slide, and state lawmakers are shifting the burden of education onto local boards.
“The tax is just a Band-Aid to carry us two to three more months,” Carrigan said.
The district will be charging a new travel fee for all extracurricular, club, and organization travel this school year.  The same will be charged for all school field trips.  In the past, these groups have paid for the gas involved with their travel.  Now, they will need to pay for the personnel to drive the bus as well as the wear and tear on the bus.  The new fee should bring $15,000 into the district to cover travel to counterbalance the state’s decreased funding of travel over the years.
The district has also eliminated the extended-day kindergarten program and cut contract days for most district employees.
“It is tough for all of us,” Superintendent Ken Adams said.  “You should all be commended for the sacrifices you are making.”
The district is trying to think outside the box to increase revenue, Adams said.  A new district rental policy, governing the use of the new Trojan Century Center as well as all district facilities, is expected to bring in $5,000 in revenues, Adams said.  He negotiated a $10,000 annual rental agreement with Weber State University for use of district facilities.  WSU has not paid the district rent for use of its facilities in the past.  Contracting with independent groups to bring in 10 foreign exchange students will generate $35,000 in new funds, Adams said.  A recent UTA donation will add a small bus with a wheelchair lift and room for five wheelchairs to the district’s fleet.
If the voted leeway passes in June, the district could assess up to $1.5 million in additional revenue.  Adams said Morgan is one of only seven districts out of 41 in the state that doesn’t have a voted leeway.  Dagget, Garfield, Grand, Kane, Uintah and Wayne school districts don’t have a voted leeway.
Without the voted leeway, the district faces serious cuts in 2014, Adams said.  Those would include letting up to five teachers go, increasing class sizes, reducing support staff, eliminating one administrator, doing away with the school resource officer, no allowing teachers “steps and lanes,” passing insurance increases on to employees, increasing student fees, and loss of extra-curricular programs and elective courses.
Students would see less technology in the classroom, less police protection, fewer enrichment opportunities, less assistance with remediation, and possibly lower test scores, Adams said.
“This is not a scare tactic,” Adams said.  “This is reality.  These are serious cuts that would have to be made to balance budgets.”