The Morgan County School Board is planning to hold a truth in taxation hearing in August to set tax rates.
The board needs another month to send out tax notices, solidify exact property tax revenues, and note up-to-date budgetary expenditures, Poll said.
So far, Poll said county property taxes are down slightly compared to last year because redemptions have decreased, meaning tax payers are getting caught up on back taxes after the economic downturn. Poll said she is not projecting future redemptions in her new budget.
However, Morgan County’s taxable valuations are on the increase. For tax year 2016, Poll said the county will see an $84 million dollar increase in valuation. “That is considerable,” she said. That means that property value in Morgan County increased from $833 million in 2015 to $918 million in 2016.
If the local school board sticks to the tax rate suggested by the state auditor, tax payers will pay about $40 less in their annual taxes for the school district. However, the finance committee has discussed several scenarios that consider decreasing the board local levy, basic school rate and debt service down just enough to the pay the bond, but increasing the capital levy rate to help pay for the boiler project that started in the 2016 fiscal year budget.
“We were hit hard with the boilers this year,” said Board Chairman Ken Durrant.
The result would be keeping the total tax rate the same as 2015’s, with most homeowners paying about the same in taxes. However, 1/5 of the county will be re-assessed and will likely see their assessed property valuations increase, resulting in an increase in taxes, Poll said.
“Because of the boilers, this year we don’t have an option,” Board Member Ron Blunck said.
At the same time, the state’s projections for the weighted pupil unit (WPU) are up to 80, which means the state predicts Morgan’s schools to grow by 80 students. Usually, Morgan doesn’t count on the state’s full projection, in an effort to be conservative in their budgeting. However, this year, Poll said she feels good budgeting with the full 80 WPUs predicted by the state because the school district has already documented an increased enrollment of 40 students based on actual end of-school-year enrollment. The state operates on an Oct. 1 enrollment.
“Your school is growing faster than you can keep up with,” Durrant said.
Superintendent Doug Jacobs said that while the school board must grapple with “political capital” and be sensitive to the taxpayers, he has to be responsible to the district.
The school board is budgeting based on fewer foreign exchange students this upcoming school year compared to 17 last school year. The school district gets revenue for every exchange student attending its schools.
The district is also planning to pay four additional teachers compared to last year, and planning for an increase in health insurance premiums. District transportation officials may have to add an additional driver to the payroll to handle next school year’s bus routes, and is planning to add a new $140,000 bus to the fleet.
In the upcoming school year, the district is also planning to fund technology infrastructure updates, smart boards, furniture, and pavement upgrades, which went on hold as the district caught up on emergency roof repairs. While Poll would like to resurface the high school tennis courts, she is having difficulty finding a vendor that can do the project.
For years leading up to the economic downturn, the district was making extra capital lease payments to pay off debt used to construct the high school counseling center addition. However, they stopped making extra payments for three years “when times got tough,” Poll said. The new budget will restore extra payments, and hopefully get the debt paid off by 2019, she said.
The most recent budget coming to a close included expenditures for relocating modular, repairing boilers, getting new lawn equipment, installing new bleachers, resurfacing the high school track and upgrading mechanical controls. The district still owes money for full mechanical teams in over the Christmas break to get controls operational before students returned to school in January.
The superintendent and district financial committee approved the budget, including renaming the “pay as you go” fund as the “future projects fund.” The fund will be used to sock extra money away for a time when the district needs to fund a capital project or acquire land.