A non-profit taxpayer watchdog group is questioning the timing of the Alpine School District's $66.9 million bond and leeway proposal.
Leaders of the Utah Taxpayers Association pondered Monday in a "Tax Alert" why district officials would ask residents to approve both a bond and a leeway Tuesday."Many taxpayers are wondering whether, in addition to asking voters to pay for the bond, now is the appropriate time to ask for an increase in the voted leeway," the association wrote.
"Taxpayers will have to decide whether in addition to the impact of the bond, they are willing to approve a tax increase that would have more than three times the impact of the bond."
Property taxes would increase $30.50 on a $100,000 house, graduating to $63.50 in the next three years, if a simple majority of voters casts ballots in favor of the entire funding plan.
But if only the bond gains passage, then taxes will rise $14 yearly on property valued at $100,000. Impacts of only the leeway on a $100,000 house would be $49.50.
Superintendent Steven C. Baugh said the bond and leeway go hand-in-hand. The district does not have the money in the operating budget to pay utility bills or hire staff at new buildings. Some $1.2 million of the leeway would be allocated to open the planned elementary schools.
"Revenue comes in two ways: a bond to build and a leeway to operate the programs," Baugh said. "It doesn't make sense to have one without the other."
Baugh, who was retained as superintendent for another two years by the board Tuesday, anticipates the final vote tally to be close. Members of the PTA are circulating 45,000 information leaflets this weekend to encourage residents to vote.
The tax association does recognize the district's need to build schools for the expected surge in enrollment for the next four years, and acknowledges that bonding is "the best way for fund school construction."
But of the 20 largest school districts, Alpine levied the second to the lowest property-tax rate in 1997 at .005524. If the entire voted leeway was imposed this year, the rate increase from the voted leeway and the bond would give Alpine the 10th highest tax rate of the 20, the association said.
"The association recognizes that during the three-year phase in of the voted leeway, the rates of other school districts may increase or decrease, thereby changing Alpine's ranking, but feels the ranking is beneficial in providing the larger picture of the tax increase to our members," the group said in the letter.
If voters approve the issuance and leeway, it would be the second year in a row that Alpine District has raised taxes, the association said. Last year's tax increase raised residential taxes by $26 and commercial taxes by $47 on a $100,000 property.
Although the public has not voted on the revenue package, the hoped-for funds from the bond and leeway were included in a $233 million budget approved by the Alpine Board of Education Tuesday. The budget increased 11.2 percent over 1997's figures.
State law requires districts to approve an operating budget with all potential revenues by June 22. Board members said the final budget will be addressed again in August, and changes, including the outcome of the election, will be noted.
"It's a biggie," said board member Linda Campbell of the budget. "We spend about $1.5 million a day."
Alpine expects to net about $21 million in property-tax revenue, including bond and leeway options. State revenues account for about $134 million, federal funds tally about $8 million and returns on investments are anticipated to bring in $2 million.