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Columbia Missourian

Harrisburg to vote on proposed tax levy increase

July 31, 2008 | 6:29 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA - The Harrisburg School District is again asking for a 60-cent property tax levy increase. If voters approve it on Tuesday, they will pay $3.80 per $100 of assessed valuation, for about $174,000.

The district's superintendent, Lynn Proctor, said the revenue would be used toward a five-year plan the district adopted in January.

Voters rejected a 60-cent increase in 2006 and 2007.

"We felt that our patrons needed a more specific plan for what the district would do with the revenue," Proctor said.

Under the plan, summer school, football, volleyball and middle school softball, none of which currently exists, would be funded. Teachers would be added to the gifted, special education and language arts programs; and facilities for high school baseball and softball programs would be improved.

The revenue would also help with the ongoing costs of running the district, including maintenance and coursework.

Located about 18 miles northwest of Columbia, Harrisburg has about 600 students on two campuses: a northern campus, which is home to the elementary and middle schools, and a southern campus for the high school, which includes grades nine through 12.

A major maintenance concern is the boiler at the north campus.

"That boiler has been there at least since the ‘70s," said Brent Voorheis, president of the Harrisburg School Board. "The main problem is that it's inefficient. There are hot and cold zones in the district. Some people in some rooms are so hot they have to open windows, and then there are other people that don't get any heat at all."

Voorheis said he thinks one reason voters rejected an increase before was a poor economy.

"Over the last 16 or 17 years, our school district has been living on the increased valuation of property value on newly built homes. Our district has been growing, but since we've had people come in from Columbia and buy 10 acres, our tax valuation is going up," Voorheis said. "Because of the increase in tax valuation, we were able to receive more tax revenue from property taxes.

"We've gotten to the point now where our growth has stagnated," he continued. "We need money. We are operating at a deficit and spending money out of reserves. The (Missouri) Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has added new requirements for graduation, and the only way to meet those requirements is by adding personnel."

Proctor, who became superintendent on July 1, thinks a lack of communication is a possible reason for the past two levy rejections.

"Maybe we needed to communicate more about what we would do with revenue that was generated," Proctor said.

Dawn Malone's son attends Harrisburg schools, and although she supports the levy increase, she understands why some voters may choose to vote against it.

"I think some - those on a fixed income, with no direct relationship with the school - will vote no, because when you can barely afford gas for your car, why would you want to raise taxes?" Malone said. "Also, some people are naïve, because they think it's only for the football program."