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Public comments on tax increase

Article Date: 
17 August, 2012 (All day)

Public comment was split nearly evenly Tuesday evening on whether or not the Morgan County School Board should raise taxes to provide the district with $100,000 in contingency funds.
Twenty people addressed the board in a meeting that was relocated to the Morgan High School auditorium because of the large turnout.
Opposition
Some showed their opposition to increased taxes.
Bret Smith cautioned the board that raising the tax rate may likewise increase the likelihood that people cannot afford to pay their taxes, increasing the delinquency rates that are already high compared to those in years past.
“You’re cutting your own neck on this one by increasing taxes,” Smith said.
“You need to show good faith by balancing your budget and then see what happens,” said Wendy Turner, a retired school teacher who has a second home in Morgan.  “Don’t do it on the backs of the elderly and those on fixed incomes.”
Troy Butterfield, as small businessman who opposed the tax rate, said he would like to see students spend less time watching movies and going ice skating during school hours.  Volunteers in the community could help “alleviate some of the pain teachers are experiencing,” he said.
Jim Lee Jones said kids today are spoiled and should learn more about self reliance and personal sacrifice.
“We are struggling.  Please don’t make it any harder than it already is,” said small business owner Ron Russell, who is struggling with high insurance costs and not having a raise in the last five years.  “It’s not just the school that is struggling.  We have needs, too.”
Support
Despite the five dissenters, eight voiced their support of increased taxes to benefit local schools.
Rick Barnes said that Morgan has the best education program that he has seen after living in five different states.  In addition, he has paid the lowest property taxes in Morgan than he has living anywhere else.
“I don’t call it a tax,” Barnes said.  “I call it an investment in our youth.”
 “All taxpayers must be given the opportunity to pay their fair share,” said Ann Taggart, a teacher who has been teaching for 34 years.  She mentioned the fact that the economy has caused many families to move in with parents, creating two-family households that pay only one property tax bill.
“Don’t let education burn,” said Carl Hipwell.  “We need to support our teachers and administration.  They are the best I’ve ever seen.”
Regular school volunteer Dick Morrin urged the board to pass the increase.  “Procrastination is opportunity assassinated,” he said.
The longer time goes without any financial improvements, the more teacher morale will sink, said Morgan Education Association President Jared Barlow.  “I have never seen education where morale is so low,” he said.  “It is going to be hard to get quality educators here in Morgan.”
“We need to quit worrying about ourselves and worry about our kids,” said Brenda Crossley, who also mentioned the city and county governments need to do a better job at welcoming new businesses to the area. 
Some voiced their support of the increased tax in spite of the financial difficulties they themselves face.
Maxine Long, a teacher for 33 years, said her small business recently went out of business.  “I am still willing to pay more taxes because kids matter,” she said.
Kathy Nelson accepted a teaching position in Morgan five years ago, and has been unable to sell their home in Idaho since.  Her paycheck only covers her two house payments, not groceries.  “I understand how hard it will be for people,” she said.  “This comes down to one thing: we’ve got to do what is in the best interest of the children.”
Suggestions
Seven others refrained from supporting or opposing the tax, but offered the board suggestions.
Lydia Nuttall, a candidate for a position on the school board, said that students may have to learn to do with less.  For example, they may not have as nice of jerseys, desks, and television sets as those found in other school districts.
Lanelle Butterfield suggested community leaders volunteer when the district needs substitute teachers.
“We need to brainstorm some creative solutions,” she said.
Trina Wilkinson agreed.
“We need to think outside the box for volunteers,” she said.  “We have a lot of under-used resources, people in the community.”
Businessman Kirk McGary said that when he hires someone, he doesn’t look at whether they can play the trumpet or were on the debate team.  He supports cutting some programs as long as the district focuses on core subjects such as reading and math. 
Kera Birkeland said the district could get more financial support from the community if government did not make that contribution mandatory in the form of a tax.
Board reaction
Boardmembers, particularly Ken Durrant and Joey Skinner, said it was difficult to make a decision because they agreed with everything that was said during the public comment period.  Many board members waited until hearing from the public Tuesday evening before deciding how to vote.
“I hate the idea of raising taxes in general.  But public education is something we pay taxes for,” Skinner said.  “I don’t think anyone on the board likes these solutions.”
Superintendent Ken Adams said Morgan is a relatively affluent community that is paying less in taxes than a majority of the 41 school districts in the state.
Adams said according to 2010 census figures, Morgan County’s population is younger than other counties in the state.  In addition, Morgan County has larger families, a higher per capital income, lower poverty rate, and higher graduation rate than the state average. Morgan also boasts a high median income, second only to Summit County. 
However, Morgan ranks 36th out of 41 districts in the state for per pupil expenditures.  Alpine, Box Elder, Davis, Jordan and Nebo school districts spend less than Morgan on each student mostly because, based on an economy of scale, those larger districts can do more with less money, Adams said.