March 11, 2007 in Idaho

District awaits levy vote

Meghann M. Cuniff Staff writer

At a glance

What: Voters in the Kootenai School District, based in Harrison on the south end of Lake Coeur d’Alene, will decide Monday whether to give the district $540,000 over the next two years.

Cost: The supplemental levy, which funds school maintenance and operations, would cost property owners $244 for every $50,000 of taxable property value.

The vote: More than 50 percent approval needed to pass. Polls are open from noon until 8 p.m. at Harrison Elementary, Medimont Grange Hall, Carlin Bay Community Center and Harrison City Hall and the residence of Sharon Smith on Hells Gulch Road.

Taxpayers in and around the small lakeside town of Harrison have paid extra property tax to the Kootenai School District for longer than Ron Hill has been superintendent, and he started 21 years ago.

So if someone asks what might happen if voters don’t approve the new supplemental levy up for a vote Monday, Hill isn’t sure what to say.

“If it doesn’t pass, I guess I haven’t really …” he said, trailing off. “What would be cut? I guess you can start talking about all kinds of things – athletics, activities, buses.”

“It’s a levy we’ve had forever, as many school districts have,” Hill continued. “It’s not that uncommon.”

The Coeur d’Alene, Lake Pend Oreille, Wallace and Boundary school districts have similar levy proposals coming up. Most other North Idaho districts have levies in place that won’t need renewal until next year.

The $270,000 the Kootenai district is asking taxpayers to pay each year for the next two years is about 8.5 percent of the district’s budget. It would replace the expiring levy and give the district extra money to use on future building needs such as landscaping and maintenance.

It’s an increase of $53,000 a year over the expiring levy, or about 89 cents per $1,000 of property value, Hill said. The proposed levy is $90,000 a year less than the levy that was in place when Hill started as superintendent in 1985.

Under the new request, for every $50,000 a property is worth, the owner will pay the school district $244.

The extra money isn’t earmarked for anything in particular at the district’s three schools. It’s there to cover inflationary costs of current operations and to build savings for facilities upkeep and maintenance, said Rick Palmiter, chairman of the district’s Board of Trustees.

The construction of Kootenai High School a few years ago drained the district’s reserves, officials said.

“We’re trying to get in a position so that we don’t have to, down the road, look at (another) levy of some sorts,” Palmiter said.

The first project the extra money would likely go to is repaving the two parking lots on the district’s campus, home to the district’s three schools as well as the administrative office, Hill said.

“There’s no frills,” he said. Two-year supplemental levies have been part of the district’s budget for longer than Hill can remember. Support has generally been high, but the levy about to expire squeaked by in 2005 with just 51 percent of the vote. That’s something Hill attributes to the ire that arose in the past few years over high property taxes.

He’s hopeful voters will understand that they’re paying less in property taxes to schools because the Legislature moved school funding off the property tax and onto an increased sales tax last year.

But, he added, “it’s still taxes to people.”

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