March 4, 2009 in City

Ads make false claims

Taxpayers could pay more if voters pass school bond, levy
By The Spokesman-Review
 
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Compare property tax rates by year, broken down by bonds and levies, at www.spokanecounty.org/tca/. Tax ID 10 refers to the city of Spokane.

A group urging a “yes” vote for two Spokane Public Schools measures is pulling ads that contain false information about how much taxpayers would be expected to contribute for the proposals.

Television, radio and newspaper advertisements paid for by Citizens for Spokane Schools – which operates independent of the school district – claim that voters will pay a lower tax rate than they’re paying now upon approval of a $288 million construction bond and the renewal of a three-year maintenance and operation levy. Both are on the March 10 ballot.

But the ads are inaccurate, according to information provided by the Spokane County Assessor’s Office.

Tax records show that if the bond is approved, the owner of a $200,000 home could pay $140 more in taxes in 2010, and $96 more for the proposed levy.

The group says the misinformation was unintentional. It was trying to fit a large amount of information in the small print ads and 30-second television spots that have been running for several weeks.

“That’s not an excuse, it’s just one of the realities we are coping with,” said Barb Chamberlain, co-chairwoman of Citizens for Spokane Schools. “I think we made a very human mistake.”

The school district learned of the mistake Thursday, after a television news reporter and a concerned residents contacted officials, said Terren Roloff, district spokeswoman.

District staff did not preview the advertisements, Roloff said.

The ads, which state taxpayers would pay “less than current rates” and said there’d be “no increase in rates,” were pulled from print.

Information on the campaign group’s Web page was removed, and the television spots expired Friday and won’t be aired again, Chamberlain said.

“As soon as we realized we left a critical phrase out of our wording we took down anything we could get to,” she said.

Chamberlain said her group was referring to the fact that the estimated tax rates on the current ballot are the same or less than the estimated rates approved by voters for the same measures in previous years. According to tax records, that is true.

However, current tax rates are lower than the amounts previously approved by voters, which means taxes would increase if the new measures pass.

In 2006, voters approved a three-year levy amount of $3.69 per $1,000 of assessed property value. This year, they are asking voters to approve a rate of $3.56 per $1,000 in 2010. But the current rate of $2.86 per $1,000 is 70 cents less than what is proposed for 2010.

The levy makes up 14.5 percent of the district’s operating budget, and pays for things like librarians, counselors and textbooks.

In 2003, voters approved a construction bond that paid for three new elementary schools and the remodel of two high schools. At that time, the district said it would cost no more than $1.96 per $1,000 of assessed value. The same is true of the current bond issue, which would remodel or renovate five additional schools. However, the current bond tax rate for 2009 is $1.48 per $1,000, or 48 cents less than the proposed rate for 2010.

Several factors affect the tax rate from year to year, including lower interest rates when bonds are sold, and increases in assessed property values as well as more homes to spread the tax burden, Spokane County Assessor Ralph Baker said.

What effect the mishap will have on the campaign won’t be known until all ballots are counted March 10. As of Tuesday, more than 30,000 voters, or 28 percent, had returned their ballots.

“Our hope is that the voters remember what the dollars are for, that they do what Spokane voters have historically done for over three decades which is in good times and bad times support the kids in schools,” Chamberlain said.

Sara Leaming can be reached at (509) 459-5533 or saral@spokesman.com.

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