Oftentimes in debate the heart of the matter is lost in spurious details. But occasionally the key issue becomes obviously clear. Such a moment occurred at the Morgan County School Board meeting last month. The proposed Voted Local Levy, a new property tax increase to fund the school budget, was the topic of discussion.
The eureka moment occurred when a taxpayer asked why the levy allows the school board to raise $1,300,000 in property taxes each year when they have promised us that they would never ask for more than $350,000. The response by the school board was a plea to trust them to stick to their word. Board member Jody Hipwell said, “You have to have faith in who you have elected.”
In other words, yes, we on the board know that placing the higher tax rate on the ballot is indefensible, but you can trust us.
I am not disputing the notion that the school district needs additional funds. But if the board had specified in the levy the lower rate they are committed to, then they wouldn’t have to ask for our blind faith. Morgan County homeowners deserve more than a pinky promise not to raise our taxes indiscriminately.
To make matters worse, five years from now, when our current school board members will have left office, the levy will give the board power to increase the rate to nearly five times what the board is asking for today. That would give Morgan County the second highest property tax rate in the state.
It wasn’t that long ago that Nancy Pelosi told us “We have to pass the health reform bill so you can find out what is in it.” Now the Morgan School Board is telling us essentially the same thing: we have to pass the levy so we can find out how much they will tax us.
This is unacceptable. When President Reagan negotiated the INF Treaty with Gorbachev, he told the communist leader over and over that his rule was “trust, but verify.” Unfortunately, the Voted Local Levy is all trust with no way to verify. For this reason the current levy proposal should be scrapped. If the board is honestly committed to assessing $350,000, then they should give Morgan County taxpayers a proposal with that number.
But don’t ask us to pass the levy so we can find out how much you will tax us.
~ Jim Bledsoe