Anti-tax activist Ron Rankin has launched a campaign against proposed local school district supplemental levies, saying schools don’t need the money.
Rankin voiced his opposition the day after school officials in Coeur d’Alene decided to hold a May 2 election for a two-year supplemental levy for $2.97 million each year. The levy is an additional property tax to be approved by voters.
“This is a real flimflam,” said Rankin, president of the Kootenai County Property Owners Association.
School officials argue that the money is needed to keep up with growth and to provide quality programs for students.
Coeur d’Alene’s decision came two weeks after Post Falls officials decided to hold an election April 25 for a two-year $500,000-per-year levy.
Rankin and the property owners association did not oppose similar levies voters approved in Post Falls and Coeur d’Alene two years ago.
“Those were passed based on needs, based on current funding at the time,” Rankin said.
“After we passed that levy, the state kicked in the first year an additional $100 million and the next year $50 million into the pot” for schools statewide, he said, rounding up his figures a few million.
Moreover, Rankin argues, assessed property values in the county have increased, which, in turn, has brought local governments more money at lower tax rates. “Every tax district that I live in, the tax rate was lowered, but I paid an 18 percent increase in taxes,” he said.
The Post Falls School Board chose a levy amount this year that would keep the district’s tax rate the same.
School officials acknowledge that they got more money the last two years from the state as well as more taxing power locally, but that didn’t offset their needs, they said.
Much of the money helped pay for growth. Post Falls hired 18 new teachers and replaced administrators that had been lacking for months and years.
With the increased school funding from the state came changes in how the money is distributed. School districts took on the responsibility for paying teacher benefits that the state previously had assumed.
Though Rankin argues that supplemental levies should be sought only in extreme circumstances, Coeur d’Alene has relied on supplemental levies since 1981.
Two levies that failed in the mid’80s led to severe budget cuts, school officials said. Assistant Superintendent Dave Teater estimates that the $2.97 million would represent about 10 percent of next year’s budget.
Coeur d’Alene’s proposed levy would cost the owner of a $100,000 home about $85 per year, Teater calculates. That’s only about $9 more than residents pay for the $2.47 million levy which expires this year.
And, Teater said, that same homeowner is getting a $65 reduction from the state under the governor’s property tax relief bill.
The supplemental levy helps fund district services such as elementary art specialists and counselors, the youth volunteer program, technology facilitators and athletic trainers.
In Post Falls, the levy is targeted to pay for building maintenance, school buses and textbooks.
“The likelihood of us doing a districtwide (textbook) adoption without this levy is very unlikely,” said Sid Armstrong, Post Falls district treasurer.