COLUMBIA — As the Columbia School Board prepares to vote on a proposed 8 cent increase in the school’s district’s property tax levy, Boone County Assessor Tom Schauwecker is criticizing the board for basing its case for a higher levy on preliminary numbers — and for a lack of transparency.
The board will meet at 7:30 a.m. Thursday in the District Administration Building, 1818 W. Worley St. to hear from the public about the measure and vote on the proposed tax rate. The school board advised the public of this week’s meeting in an Aug. 19 public notice in the Columbia Daily Tribune.
The Columbia Board of Education will hold a public hearing on its property tax levy for fiscal 2009 at 7:30 a.m. Thursday at the District Administration Building, 1818 W. Worley St.
Schauwecker criticized what he called a lack of transparency in the notice, which made no mention of the current tax rate and did not explicitly state that an increase has been proposed. He added that the meeting time probably won’t encourage attendance.
Nick Boren, chief operations officer for the district, said that 7:30 a.m. is the district’s typical time for special sessions and work sessions and that the board intentionally sets the annual tax rate hearing as late in the month of August as possible to get the most current numbers. The notice, he added, complies with all regulations and exactly matches the format used in previous years.
Boren acknowledged that the notice might be more informative if it included the current tax rate.
"Would it be helpful? Absolutely," Boren said. "But we are complying with the regulations of that notice."
By state law, Missouri school districts can increase property tax levies to maintain an adequate operating budget from year to year. Districts must set the property tax rate before Sept. 1. This increase differs from the 54 cent increase voters rejected in April 2008. School board president Jan Mees said tax increases only go to a public vote when proposed rates exceed the tax rate ceiling permitted by law.
Boren said the board could raise the tax rate up to a maximum of $4.812 per $100 in assessed property value from the current rate of $4.7292. Linda Quinley, director of business services for the district, told the Missourian last week that the maximum rate would increase the tax on a home valued at $100,000 by around $16.
According to the preliminary estimate, the district already would be receiving around $2.1 million from new construction and improvements and from reassessments.
The proposed increase doesn’t sit well with Schauwecker. He said the district based its calculations on the preliminary assessment done in July. But every year, the actual assessment in December produces more taxable property. Therefore, tax increases will yield more money than the school district had budgeted. Last year, for example, that change was 0.3 percent for the school district, from $1.975 billion to $1.982 billion.
Schauwecker emphasized that the district is within its legal rights. “It’s legal — it’s shortsighted,” he said.
School board member Tom Rose emphasized that the 8 cent increase is the maximum increase possible, and that the board has in no way decided to accept the full levy. In past years, he added, the board has decreased the rate or kept it the same, but he believes the rate needs to be readjusted for this budget year.
Mees and Rose said the board will take any public concerns under careful consideration. Rose even said that if the board hears a lot of public concern, it would be able to delay a vote, even with the close deadline.
“The board will be very conservative, realizing the concerns that Tom Schauwecker and others will have,” Rose said. “We know that in this economy, an increase will be hard on people."