April 10, 2011 in City

District says group’s flier exaggerates levy request

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Along with a ballot, residents of the Orchard Prairie School District may have found a bright yellow flier in their mailboxes recently urging them to vote “no” on an upcoming school levy.

The fliers were sent out by Citizens for Responsible Taxation, an anti-tax group made up of John Beal, Marilyn Montgomery and former Alton’s Tires owner Duane Alton.

The Orchard Prairie flier warns that a “sneak election” is coming and urges residents within the district to reject the levy. The fliers say property taxes would increase by $2,490 for a home valued at $100,000 if voters approve the levy.

District officials say the group’s calculations are incorrect.

“The fact that it has grossly incorrect figures really disturbs me,” said Dan Cutler, a school board member. “I don’t mind people sending out fliers saying to vote no, but to send it out with false figures in it is really unethical.”

The K-7 school, located north of Spokane Valley, serves 60 to 80 students a year. In the April 26 election, district officials are asking voters to approve a $105,000 maintenance and operation levy for two years to help fill budget gaps left by state funding and replace an expiring levy.

If passed, it would cost homeowners about $1.25 per $1,000 of assessed home value in 2012 and $1.24 per $1,000 in 2013. For a home valued at $100,000, the property tax increase would be a two-year total of $249, one-tenth the figure shown on the fliers.

If the replacement levy fails, “we wouldn’t be able to support the teachers that we have,” Cutler said. “Also, you have to have a levy to qualify for matching funds from the (state) government.”

The fliers call the levy a “new tax” and say the district is proposing “more taxes.”

However, Lorna St. John, a school board member, said, “It’s not new taxes. It’s asking for the same levy amount we have been getting.”

Supporters fear the misinformation could scare voters into rejecting the levy, St. John said.

“It certainly bothers me that they’re telling voters something that isn’t true about how much we’re asking for,” she said. “I’m not sure how they formulated that, but it’s intended to frighten; it’s intended to confuse. The language is very inflammatory.”

“They have their own agenda and their agenda is to stop taxation of every kind,” she said.

The anti-tax group has campaigned against several other school bonds and levies, including in Spokane, Central Valley and West Valley school districts in 2003, and against bonds in the Central Valley and Mead school districts earlier this year.

The trio also sent fliers in opposition to the $33.75 million East Valley School District renovation bond that will appear on the April 26 ballot. If voters approve the bond, it will cost about 86 cents per $1,000 of assessed home value for 20 years, or $86 a year on a home valued at $100,000.

None of the three members of the anti-tax group lives in the Orchard Prairie School District, according to addresses they gave the state when they registered as a political committee opposing the Mead and Central Valley districts’ bonds.

It is unclear whether they accidentally made the error on the fliers or intentionally increased the figures. Beal and Montgomery did not return calls for comment Saturday.

St. John exchanged emails with the group, and she said they stand by their calculations.

“I have no idea where they’re coming from,” she said. “But they say their formula is right. Even if they admitted it, it’s no good to me. They’ve done their damage already.”

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