The greater Spokane Valley will be represented by a quartet of school districts on February’s special election ballot – although the approach to state levy equalization funds will vary in nearly every initiative.
Freeman and West Valley school districts made it official at their respective board meetings last week, voting to include replacement levy requests on the Feb. 14, 2012 ballot. West Valley will also put a replacement technology levy before voters.
In Freeman, the levy represents 17 percent, or $1.4 million of the district’s $8.7 million annual budget. According to Superintendent Randy Russell, the district will run a three-year replacement levy at a rate of $2.93 per $1,000 of assessed property value, the same rate as residents in the rural area are currently paying.
Unlike Central Valley and East Valley, which are both running levy amounts that assume no state levy equalization funds – the traditional contribution from Olympia that acts as a supplement to the dollars raised on a local level – Freeman is banking on a state match of around $334,000. West Valley, meanwhile, has included state proceeds that total half the amount from previous years.
The special 17-day legislative session that began in Olympia on Nov. 28 did not include a final decision on reduction in matching funds for schools, although Gov. Christine Gregoire’s preliminary budget features a four-tiered proposal that would cut dollars based on a school district’s existing property tax base. A suburban district like Central Valley, with a relatively dense mix of residential and commercial properties, would lose all its funding under the plan.
The Legislature will convene for its regular 60-day session on Jan. 9.
A recent survey of Freeman residents resulted in little support for the idea of increasing the property tax rate from $2.93 to $3.63 per $1,000 of assessed value in order to cover the potential state shortfall of $334,000.
“We set (the rate) based on comments that basically said, ‘We’ll support you at the level we’ve been supporting you,’” said board President Randy Primmer.
In East Valley and Central Valley, a scenario involving state funds would result in a “rollback” of taxes such as the one announced by CVSD in November. The Central Valley board voted unanimously on Nov. 28 to roll back $4.4 million from the 2012 voter-approved tax roll amounts based on the receipt of levy equalization funds that were unanticipated when the total of $27.3 million was set in 2009.
In Freeman’s case, the annual amount of $1.4 million must stay the same for the duration of the three-year levy, meaning loss of state dollars would impact various programs throughout the district. Levy revenue covers a wide variety of areas, including sports, music, utilities, transportation, textbooks, counseling, building maintenance and more.
A repeal of the law outlining levy equalization would take a two-thirds majority in the House and Senate. If the funds are retracted, there is still the possibility of a supplemental levy being run in districts that had included the revenue in their original amount.
In West Valley, the maintenance and operations levy would generate $7.84 million a year over three years, beginning in 2013. The technology levy, meanwhile, would amount to $500,000 over the same span.
The WVSD board approved a levy amount at its Dec. 14 meeting that assumes 50 percent of state equalization funds. That means the rate would be at $4.69 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. The addition of state dollars would put the rate at $4.28 per $1,000. The technology levy taxes residents at a 30 cent per $1,000 clip.
Like Central Valley, WVSD rolled back property taxes this year – in the amount of $536,000 – based on receiving state funds that were not anticipated in 2009.
All four area school districts ran levies on the ballot in February 2009 with each earning the required simple majority of any margin over 50 percent. The voting stipulation had changed from the supermajority (60 percent or above) thanks to the passage of House Resolution 4204 in 2007. In 2009, East Valley was the only district among the four greater Spokane Valley districts (at 52 percent) to fall below the supermajority.
Brian Liberg, co-chair of West Valley Votes, a citizen-based group promoting the levy, said the community campaign will include phone trees, yard signs and doorbelling in support of the maintenance and technology levies. Ballots are scheduled to be mailed out the week of Jan. 23.