In a surprise move, the Morgan County School Board voted 5-0 to drop
In a surprise move, the Morgan County School Board voted 5-0 to drop their special levy rate for the next fiscal year by an additional 5% on Tuesday evening, April 17.
The meeting was called to officially set the special levy rate at 90% of its original level. Instead, Board President Laura Smith opened the meeting by asking school officials to cut that rate back to 85% and save taxpayers $250,000.
The drop in school taxes is slightly more than the hike in county government taxes for a new courthouse.
With the school's special levy at 85%, primary residences will be taxed at 19.51 cents per $100 assessed value.
School officials expect this will bring in $4.24 million on top of $4.1 revenue from the regular school levy.
Budget stays same
Smith said recent conversations with Superintendent David Temple and Treasurer Nancy White reassured her that a tax cut wouldn't alter the upcoming year's $25.7 million budget, which includes a 1.5% pay raise for all school employees.
A preliminary school budget had been prepared based on tax revenue from a 90% levy rate.
To make up the tax cut, $250,000 in revenue will be transferred out of the school's healthy capital fund and into the general fund to cover the raise and a boost for student allocations and travel.
During a budget work session in March, White estimated that the capital fund would carry a balance of $506,086 into the new fiscal year, including $75,000 in interest collected on that fund.
A shift of $250,000 out of the building fund is possible, school officials said, because the county is eligible for new state money under the revised Growth Counties Facilities Act. An additional $195,000 in growth money had already been added into next year's school budget.
After 15 minutes of discussion, board member Larry Omps made the motion to reduce the levy rate to 85% and shift $250,000 out of the capital fund into the general fund. The board unanimously passed the motion.
Concerns about levy's fate
Several members voiced the hope that the cut will help their case when the special levy comes up for renewal in December, 2008.
Smith said her proposal was driven by worries about increasing tax burdens on Morgan County taxpayers.
"My concern is the levy and getting the levy passed. This year, things have been rough on the taxpayers with reassessments," Smith said, referring to steadily increasing property values in the county.
"I'm worried about the levy passing. I'd rather see us tighten our belts now," she said.
"If we don't pass the levy, that's pretty devastating to our system," said board member David Ambrose.
Without the excess levy, the school system would face a
significant revenue shortfall –
at least $4 million a year.
Most of that money goes toward a salary supplement for teachers.
Omps showed strong support for Smith's proposal for an 85% levy rate. "We have quite a bit in the capital fund, with projects fully funded through 2010," he said.
"We need to be very aware of what's happening in Morgan County. Dropping the rate shows that we're making an effort," Omps said.
Ambrose asked if other board members had gotten feedback from the public about the school's tax rates.
Margaret Gordon and Margaret Zembower said they'd heard no negative comments from county residents. Smith and Omps said they'd heard complaints about the tax rate.
The original levy was supposed to bring in $2.9 million each year, but has drawn in
progressively more as property values increased. Even at an 85% tax rate, the schools
will receive $1.3 million more than the 2003 levy call. The school system gets nearly 75% of Morgan County taxpayer dollars.
Budget vote next
The Morgan County School Board will consider public comment on the proposed 2007-2008 fiscal year budget on Tuesday, May 1, at 7 p.m.
The proposed budget was published in last week's Morgan Messenger. Budget information is also available at the Morgan County Board of Education office at 247 Harrison Avenue, Berkeley Springs.