By JESSICA CRAWFORD
• Daily Leader
During USD No. 480’s Monday evening budget workshop, the mill levy was once again a heated issue. Three board members opted to build trust, while four elected to simply build.
For the 2010-11 school year, the mill levy will raise to 4 mills. Last year, the mill levy of 4, with the authority of the board to raise it to 8 mills, went to a special election and failed, leaving the district with 0 mills to work with in its capital outlay fund.
In a proposed budget by business and finance director Jerry Clay, the mill levy will be raised from 0 to 4.219.
“This year, we passed a capital outlay resolution, and it was not taken to special election,” Clay said. “The total increase was 4.219 mills. Four mills of that is capital outlay. The 0.219 is basically between bond and interest and the Local Option Budget.”
Clay attributed the raise in mills mostly to the drop in assessed valuation throughout the district.
“Assessed valuation dropped 8.86 percent in our general fund,” Clay said. “$18.5 million of our assessed valuation went down. The mill levy had to be adjusted slightly upward to keep dollars coming in.”
Board president Reid Petty suggested lowering the mill levy to three rather than four, in an effort to gain the trust back from the taxpayers.
“This is just my thought and the rest of you might disagree with me, but I would like to see the capital outlay go from 4 to 3 mills so we don’t have to increase the mill as much,” Petty said.
Clay explained each mill is actually worth approximately $188,000 to the budget. He added the importance of keeping the capital outlay fund built up is so starting cash will be available for the next school year.
“In budget authority, I budgeted higher in capital outlay in case we need it,” he said. “I do not expect to spend $2.9 million in capital outlay this year, but it is there in case we need it. The highest I have ever seen spent is $2.5 million.
“Your cash balance in capital outlay will be less next year than it would be with what I have proposed,” he continued. “When you start decreasing taxes for capital outlay, you are affecting next year’s starting cash balance.”
Board member Stacy Johnson disagreed with Petty’s suggestion.
“Part of the problem here is that we don’t do the amount of renovations that we should do on buildings every year,” Johnson said. “By not having that money, we don’t do the repairs on the school and they keep getting a little bit further behind. We can’t just keep cutting back and cutting back. Because then you will be asking for huge amounts of money (later).”
Board member Nick Hatcher inquired about future plans for the district by stating overpopulation must be dealt with immediately.
“Are we going to allow the 33 portable classrooms to just exist in our district or are we going to try to formulate a plan to go for a larger school bond to replace those or upgrade and renovate the elementary schools we have now?” Hatcher asked of the board. “We are looking at a huge problem of overpopulating our schools. We are either going to have to get a bond issue passed or we are going to have to start putting enough money in capital outlay so that we can add classrooms to our existing buildings. Instead of cutting capital outlay, I would like to see us start building that and building a reserve so that we can go and spend whatever it takes to make a noticeable difference in some of our schools that need improvements and upgrades.”
Petty responded citing the fact the district had 0 mills to work with last year, cuts were not being made this time.
“We were at zero last year, so if we move it to three we aren’t cutting it,” Petty said. “That was at zero last year because the public was not pleased with the way things were done, so I think we have to respect that at the same time.
Hatcher said the public was not properly informed. Petty, responded by saying the board simply can’t interpret that.
Johnson reminded the board of years past when the mill levy continually lowered for approximately four or five years.
Board member Dan Diepenbrock asked whether 3 or 4 mills would better serve the needs of the district.
“Three,” Petty responded. “Because if you want to do a bond in the future. If you continue to raise taxes, you will never gain the trust of the people.”
“Do you want to invest in the district or just get by?” Diepenbrock asked Petty.
“It is long term,” Petty said. “You earn the trust back and then you can propose something. Everyone’s taxes are going up in every other governmental body and they are still going up, even if we go down to 3 mills.”
“So, if that is your focus, it doesn’t sound like you are investing in the district,” Diepenbrock responded.
“It is long term investing in the district,” Petty argued. “It is earning back the trust of the people – then you can work with the people and show them what needs to be done. This is just a little bit of good faith, going down to 3 mills.”
Diepenbrock still did not agree with Petty’s reasoning.
“If every decision you make is about making people mad, then I think you are taking the wrong approach,” Diepenbrock said.
Hatcher again addressed the situation regarding immediate need for more teaching space.
“Personally, I can’t consciously think that way,” Hatcher said. “Knowing what is right for our children, the number one priority, making sure our children have classrooms that they can be taught in correctly. That they get the one on one attention they deserve and need.”
Petty informed Hatcher that there was no way capital outlay could currently fix all problems, a bond would have to eventually be brought to the public – after trust is gained.
“There is no way in this capital outlay that we can fix everything that needs to be fixed,” Petty said.
“I can’t put my faith in the fact that our community will pass a bond issue in a year or two or three or four or five,” Hatcher responded. “We are talking about some buildings that are quite old in our district. We may have to have some capital outlay money sitting aside so we can go add a classroom or two or whatever it is we need to accommodate the kids we have.”
“Isn’t the sacrifice of just 1 mill worth some public trust so we can look at a long term project?” vice president Tammy Sutherland-Abbott asked.
A vote was taken to gather a general consensus of how the budget will read when published by the district within the next several days.
Petty, Sutherland-Abbott and board member Cheryl Louderback voted to drop the mill levy to 3 mills. Hatcher, Johnson, Jim Jury and Diepenbrock opted to keep it at four. The budget will be adopted at the Aug. 9 regular board meeting.