The Meridian School Board is considering raising the amount of money property owners will pay in taxes starting in 2013, but probably not as high as they could.
During a school board meeting Wednesday, Oct. 26, Superintendent Tim Yeomans outlined his thoughts on what the board should do in regards to the districts’ upcoming replacement maintenance and operations levy.
With concerns about the state reducing education funding again for next school year, Yeomans recommended the board ask voters to approve a levy that is at least $90o,000 higher for 2013 than the current one, raising taxes by an estimated 90 cents per $1,000 of a property’s assessed value. But he didn’t suggest raising the amount to the levy lid, the maximum amount the districts could ask voters to approve.
Picking a dollar amount for items that districts want voters to approve can be tricky, especially for levies. If you set the amount too low, then budget cuts might still be necessary despite the revenue. Set the amount too high and voters may veto the funding, leaving the district with a large revenue hole to fill.
“I hate to say this, but we’re kind of betting the farm on this,” said board president Brian Evans. “If the levy doesn’t pass at all, we’re out of business.”
When setting levy amounts, school districts have a limit of what they can ask for. It’s a complicated formula to figure it out, but essentially it’s a percentage of the district’s operating budget. Prior to 2011, most districts could ask for an amount that equaled up to 24 percent of their operating budget. Some districts, including Bellingham and Blaine, are allowed to ask for a higher percentage; prior to 2011, Bellingham could ask for up to 26.35 percent and Blaine could ask for up to 28.51 percent.
The state Legislature increased the amount districts could ask for during 2011 and beyond, in an effort to offset state level budget cuts. Districts had their percentages increase by 4 percentage points, bringing most districts to 28 percent, Bellingham to 30.35 percent and Blaine to 32.51 percent.
For 2011, the Meridian School District had a levy authority of about $3.87 million. But the district asked for, and voters approved, a levy that collected about $2.7 million, which is about 70.7 percent of the levy authority. For 2012, the district could have asked for up to $4 million, but the approved amount is $2.84 million, or about 70.1 percent of the levy authority.
With Yeomans’ recommendation, the amounts would be about $300,000 below the district’s levy lid. Yeomans’ proposal also calls for increasing the levy amount by about $100,000 each year (which is common).
Most districts in Whatcom County are setting levy requests that are equal to their lid. Districts can also collect less than what voters approve if it appears the revenue isn’t necessary.
All seven Whatcom County school districts will have levy elections in February.
The Meridian School Board will continue discussing the levy at at special work session on Wednesday, Nov. 9 at 5 p.m. in the Meridian Middle School library.