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Public can keep an eye on tax rates set by school district

Article Date: 
3 May, 2013 (All day)

After researching the facts, talking to community members and maybe even viewing one of the Morgan County School District’s community presentations regarding the voted local levy, you may be wondering how you can keep an eye on tax rates should the levy pass.
Since the school board can only raise tax rates once each year, the answer is an annual one.
“This is a permanent tax,” said Ken Durrant, Morgan county School Board member.  “But you can object every year at budget hearings.”
Once a year, the school board sets tax rates during their budget process and formally presents them to the public during the budget hearing.  State law requires budget hearings be held every year.  
Ultimately, the decision is still made by the school board, but public comment is allowed at these hearings.  
The first hearing will likely be in August.  This is when the school board will set the tax rate. Budget hearings could occur as early as June, but usually the school district doesn’t have the certified tax rate from the county and state that early in the year.
If the levy passes, the public can witness if the board sticks to the 0.000476 rate promised, which would amount to an increase of $26.18 per year on a $100,000 home.  If they choose the higher rate of 0.0016 that will be on the ballot June 25, it will amount to an increase of $88 per year on a $100,000 home.
Morgan County School District Business Administrator D’Lynn Poll said that the board typically begins discussing budget issues in their regularly scheduled board meetings up to three months prior to the annual budget hearing.  School board meetings are typically held the second Tuesday of each month in the district office located at 240 East Young Street.
Per state law, budget hearings are advertised at least 24 hours in advance—usually as part of the board’s meeting agenda in the newspaper and on the district website.  Typically, agendas are posted the Friday prior to the meeting.
If the levy is passed, for the first five years the board could set the tax rate to any rate up to and including the maximum authorized rate of 0.0016 after discussing it in a budget hearing. 
After the first five years, the board must hold an additional hearing—a formal meeting called a truth in taxation hearing—to increase the tax rate to any level up to 0.0016.  
In fact, after the initial five years, a truth in taxation hearing is required any year the board wants to increase the tax rate.  If the board elects to keep the rate the same or decrease it, a truth in taxation hearing is not required.
This is also true for increasing tax rates on any of the district’s budget items beyond the certified tax rate.  Certified tax rates are set each year by the state tax commission and based on assessed valuations of county property.
For example, the board increased the transportation levy a couple of years ago to generate money to transport students when the state dramatically decreased transportation money.  The board held a truth in taxation hearing before increasing the transportation levy tax rate.
Truth in taxation hearings are held in August.  These hearings are also advertised in the newspaper and on the district website and allow for public comment.  
Per state law, both truth in taxation and budget hearings must be conducted completely in public and not behind closed doors.
“The public has to be given time to address the board and voice their opinions and concerns,” Poll said.
Superintendent Ken Adams predicted that tax rates would fluctuate both up and down over the years.
If the board ever wanted to increase rates beyond the 0.0016 maximum authorized rate that will be on the ballot in June, they must again go back to voters. State law allows districts to assess up to 0.0020.
Adams said an assurance voters have regarding tax rates is electing trustworthy board members to represent them.  
All school board incumbents were re-elected in the most recent November 2012 election.  
In November of 2014, the seats currently filled by Board President Bruce Galbraith as well as newly appointed member Mark Farmer will be on the ballot.  In November of 2016, the seats currently filled by Jody Hipwell, Ken Durrant and Neil Carrigan will be on the ballot.  
Regular communication with elected board members is another way to keep tax rates in check.  Their contact information (including address, phone number and email address), as well as a yearly school board meeting schedule and associated minutes, is available on the district’s website at  
A levy (or voted leeway, as it has been called in the past), has failed on county ballots twice in the past.  Each time, it was paired with a bond to pay for the construction of facilities.