3/2/2016 8:43:00 AM Residents invited to help craft school budget before new levy vote
La Conner Schools officials plan to schedule public workshops on the upcoming school budget before voters decide the fate of a pared-down, second-try levy request. School Finance Director Bonnie Haley said voters will be asked to approve a one-year levy of $995,000. Ballots will be mailed to registered voters on April 8 and counted on April 26. The new levy vote comes before the budget is set in July for the upcoming 2016-2017 school year, but the district wants community participation in the budget process before the election. Public budget workshops will be scheduled soon, Haley said. On Feb. 9, voters rejected two levies totaling close to $1.5 million per year for 2017 and 2018. The school district, which has relied on local property tax levies for years, is caught in the crossfire of a tax revolt spawned by a federal court decision that shifted the funding burden to fewer property owners. After some La Conner area residents saw their property tax bills jump by 25 percent last year, the local school levies failed for the first time ever. In the wake of the historic levy failure, longtime School Superintendent Tim Bruce and School Board President Rick Thompson have both announced that they will resign this year. And now the district will try to pass a smaller, one-year levy in hopes that enough voters will have a change of heart to pass it. Even if the new levy passes, “there will be cuts,” Haley said. Still, she said there is hope that teacher retirements and other savings might help keep the cuts from seriously impacting the students’ education. So far, the big impacts have been on taxpayers in La Conner following a federal court’s so-called Great Wolf Lodge decision, which led to 931 La Conner area parcels being removed from the county tax rolls. Most of the tax burden that used to fund nine public agencies was shifted to the remaining taxpayers. That meant some people had to carve hundreds, and in some cases, thousands of dollars out of their family budgets to pay higher property tax bills. The homes now exempt from state and county property tax are in developments built on leased Swinomish Reservation land — mostly homes owned by non-tribal members in Shelter Bay and in the Pull & Be Damned Road neighborhood. While the underlying land was never taxed, the non-tribal homeowners used to pay personal property tax on the structures. Now the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community is collecting property tax from non-tribal members who own homes on leased reservation land. While most of the money the tribe collects is used for tribal government services, the tribe has made cash contributions to some of the agencies that suffered funding cuts when the homes came off the county tax rolls. In 2015 the Swinomish Tribe gave the schools $400,000 of the money it collected in taxes from non-tribal homeowners and has indicated it will contribute $450,000 this year. However, that still left a big funding gap to be picked up by the remaining taxpayers last year and again this year. La Conner School District funding, which includes bond repayment as well as two levies approved by voters before the Great Wolf decision, accounts for about half of the typical property tax bill. The exception is for homeowners who have property tax exemptions for low-income seniors and disabled people — they pay no school tax. In the La Conner School District, the majority of register-ed voters as well as two-thirds of the district’s students live on land that the school district cannot tax. Therefore, in the upcoming election, just like in the last one, 52 percent of the voters will be asked to approve a tax for their neighbors to pay.
Posted: Wednesday, March 2, 2016
Article comment by:
Thanks for keeping us up to date on the LaConner school tax disaster. It is a complicated issue and it takes more than one reading of the material to understand it. ..... I especially like your phrase about the resignations -- that Thompson and Bruce resigned "in the wake of the failed levy" - not "because of the failed levy" because that cannot be proven, only suspected by readers like me.