Jul 182012

By Naomi Hatch
“I wanted a chance to voice opposition to having the property taxes increased,” Russell Smith told members of the Snowflake Unified School District Governing Board July 12. “It sounds like it’s in the works and already been done.”
Smith said the notice in the newspaper did not state why the property taxes would go up, and he said that it was difficult to make comments prior to board discussion, stating, “It’s kind of weird to have me speak first, not even knowing what I’m in opposition to, just that the property taxes are going up.
“Just because you get the funds doesn’t mean it will solve the problems or whatever costs you’re going to cover,” said Smith, suggesting that perhaps they should hold off in giving employees raises, because it is not just them having difficulty, many property owners are struggling with the economy.
Smith made his comment during the call to the public, which is held at the beginning of board meetings.
Business Manager Mark Ollerton explained during the public hearing that this has been advertised since June 21, and a summary has been available for review.
“Just a sidebar about the taxes,” said Ollerton, “a big part of the budget every year is the tax rate.”
Ollerton explained that there are several things that affect the local tax rate, stating that 80 percent of the district’s budget comes from state aid. He explained that the state sets the bar at a certain level, and assessed valuations for the state have dropped, which shifts the cost to district taxpayers.
“The district can approach taxes in different ways,” he said. “One, you can spend less. We are spending less. We’ve had a cut in our budget of about $300,000.”
The purpose of the tax money, Ollerton explained, was to put close to $100,000 in the adjacent ways fund, the use of which he described as, “improving the land that’s either on or adjacent to your property.” He said that later in the agenda the board would discuss a parking lot, which would change the course of water, noting, “That’s specifically what this tax would be for, either property right on or adjacent to our property for specific purposes.”
“It is an increase to the tax rate,” said Ollerton, but he explained that overall, the budget will decrease. He noted that student enrollment has dropped, which affects what the state gives to the district.
“Remember last year we had a consistent tax for adjacent ways. Last year we didn’t need it, so we didn’t tax; this year we do,” said Superintendent Hollis Merrell. “Had we chosen to continue with that tax last year, it wouldn’t have shown so much of an increase this year.”
“We don’t know what the qualifying tax rate is going to be,” said board member Shea Flake. The qualifying tax rate is what the state allocates to the district. Ollerton will not have that figure until next month.
Merrell then explained to the board members that if they wanted to make a change to the budget from dis-cussion during the public hearing, it would be appropriate at that time.
“We discussed it at length last month,” said Flake, noting he didn’t see a way to change it.
The board unanimously approved the fiscal year 2012-13 budget as part of the consent agenda.
In other business, the board approved a proposal for engineer design services from Centennial Contractors Enterprises, Inc. at a cost of $24,760 to pave the dirt parking lot behind the Snowflake High School gymnasium.
Merrell explained that there is a problem with how the water flows, and this project will solve that problem. He noted that engineering is required by the Town of Snowflake.
The superintendent also explained that the law requires the district to set classroom sizes for open enroll-ment, which makes it possible to deny an out-of-district student if class sizes are high.
In response to a question posed by board member John Stewart, Merrell noted that they have not turned a student of good standing away.
The board unanimously approved the high school handbook for the 2012-13 school year.
Merrell explained there are no major changes, but it is policy to bring any changes to the board for approval.