Parts of this week's Morgan Messenger look like a special edition about local governments' property tax rates and budgeting for the fiscal year that will start July 1.
While some people may glass over at the numbers and others may feel burned out after battling their assessment hikes, this is important stuff. You better be paying attention. Next summer's tax bills are being decided right now.
The Morgan County Commissioners appear to be settling on a plan to cut county government's tax rates by about 6%, which should adjust somewhat for the higher assessments.
The commissioners just spent a month holding Board of Equalization hearings for more than 100 property owners challenging their assessments. At the same time, the Assessor's Office handled over 700 calls and face-to-face contacts with taxpayers, many of them angry about the higher assessments left behind by former Assessor John Allen Swaim.
So, it seems like county officials have a good understanding of the public's mood and the desperation that some folks are feeling about the economy.
We hope the Morgan County School Board has been watching. It's a shame they aren't required to face the taxpayers at Board of Equalization sessions, as well. Everyone takes it out on county government officials, but the school board controls nearly 75% of the property tax dollar.
As assessments climbed in recent years, we called upon the board to cut their special school levy. While they tinkered with the rate, they never really held a line on spending by rolling it back to a "revenue neutral" position. The special levy that voters were told would bring in $2,982,122 in 2004 ended up raising $4,642,380 in 2008, without any significant increase in the number of students.
This year will have to be different. When voters renewed the special levy in November, the board said the tax would bring in $5.56 million a year and described how it would be spent. We believe they should lower the levy rate to bring in just that amount – or less. Anything more is unacceptable.
If the board can't hold the line on taxes in the first year of a five-year levy — and in the midst of a depression — they will never do it.
If local families have trouble paying the tax bills for their homes, talk about "It's for the children" and "The children are our future" is pretty empty.