School Board bumps tax levy to go toward air conditioning, other capital improvements

Thursday, August 25, 2011 | 6:36 p.m. CDT; updated 3:34 p.m. CDT, Monday, August 29, 2011

COLUMBIA — People who live in the Columbia School District will soon pay a little more in property taxes. On Thursday, the Columbia School Board unanimously approved increasing the property tax levy by 3.2 cents.

Effective Sept. 1, the levy will go up to about $4.88 per $100 of assessed valuation, up from about $4.85.

The board adjusts the tax rate annually because of two main factors:

  • The district's total worth of homes, businesses, vehicles and other property, which overall experienced a decrease of $1.2 million in assessed valuation from last year.
  • A decrease in revenue from Proposition C — Missouri's one-cent sales tax, dedicated to education, which was approved by state voters in 1982.

This adjustment means Columbia homeowners will see an increase in their property taxes:

  • Owners of homes valued at $100,000 with an assessed value of $19,000 will now pay an additional $6.08 per year for a total of about $927.
  • Owners of $150,000 homes with an assessed value of $28,500 will now pay an additional $9.12 per year for a total of  about $1,391.

Belcher: Adjustment is routine

This shift in the tax levy is a normal one, Superintendent Chris Belcher said.

“People often confuse this tax rate adjustment as an increase, when, in fact, it is simply a minor adjustment that falls far below what was allowed by voters in 2004,” Belcher said.

The district lowered the property levy two years in a row starting in 2005 but has raised it every year since. In 2010, the levy went up by 7.75 cents.

Chief Financial Officer Linda Quinley shared Belcher's sentiment and said the rate adjustment is just how the calculation works. 

“However, what we’re going to do with it is to shove this all to capital projects," she said.

These capital projects include maintenance on roofs, parking lots and windows. But most importantly, the board wants to install air conditioning in eight schools — Jefferson and West junior high schools and Lee, Midway Heights, New Haven, Ridgeway, Two Mile Prairie and Grant elementary schools — and address smaller AC projects in other schools.

Belcher said West and Jefferson are the largest schools in need of air conditioning, especially because they are old buildings that retain a lot of heat. 

“We’re not going to be doing anything we weren’t planning on doing, we’re just accelerating the air conditioning projects,” Quinley said. “What we have seen and have heard from the public is that air conditioning is a priority, and we’re conscious of that. So this is a great opportunity to put just a couple million dollars toward the project.”

Air conditioning and 2010 bond issue

In 2010, voters approved a $120 million bond issue, part of which was to be directed toward installing air conditioning in the eight schools.

But, likening it to a line of credit, Quinley said the district is able to draw down only as much of the bond money as it is able to repay each year. This year, the district was able to work with $33 million, but about $30 million has been allocated toward construction of Battle High School.

Next year, the district will have about $43 million to spend, but much of that money will go toward  bidding on land for a new elementary school, new gyms at Rock Bridge and Hickman high schools, technology improvements in the district and finishing Battle High School.

Quinley said the adjustment to the tax levy would have been made anyway. But the board is going to put the money from the adjustment toward the air conditioning project.

Overall, the project is estimated to cost between $14 million and $15 million. Official bids will be sent out this fall. How those bids come back will help determine how quickly the projects can be completed. Belcher said he hopes the air-conditioning project can be completed by 2013.

Coming: More tax levy, collective bargaining

The property tax levy is likely to be a continuing focus of the board. In the coming months, the board will address the possibility of raising the property tax levy an additional 60 cents, but this decision will ultimately be subject to voter approval.

The board will also take up collective bargaining. Members will vote on models for teachers and other school employees to negotiate terms of their employment such as salaries and benefits.

The next meeting will be at 6:30 p.m., Sept. 12, at 1818 W. Worley St.

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Mike Martin August 25, 2011 | 8:13 p.m.

This is shameful: tying this long-awaited promise, at one time to bond sales, and now to a tax levy increase.

As many people have communicated to me, the air-conditioning issue is seen as one of several "carrots," perennially used to justify revenue-raising endeavors, whether they be levy increases or bond issues.

That said, I scratch my head that in 21st-century Columbia, Missouri -- a comparatively wealthy, well-educated college town that supposedly prizes quality education -- we are even having such a debate about a 109 year old technology. Air conditioning, as we know it today, was invented in 1902.

CPS should have installed A/C not 10 years ago, or 20 years ago, but at least 30 years ago.

Here's more on what I'm talking about:

THE BIG RENEGE: Are school officials breaking long-awaited air conditioning promise?

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield August 25, 2011 | 9:14 p.m.

It's time for CPS to stop tying its schedule to MU's. Start classes after Labor Day. That's roughly three fewer weeks of summer heat for the non-AC schools to contend with and for the rest of the schools to run their AC.

(Report Comment)
Dave Overfelt August 26, 2011 | 6:41 a.m.

It seems like there should be a policy against shameless self promotion.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith August 27, 2011 | 6:07 a.m.

"It's time for CPS to stop tying its schedule to MU's."

Seems sensible, but in Columbia MU is the proverbial 1000 pound gorilla.

While UMKC and UMSL are certainly important contributors (financially, educationally, and otherwise) to their respective metro areas they lack 1000 pound gorilla status.

The Rolla/Waynesville/Saint Robert area definitely has a 1000 pound gorilla; it goes by the name "United States Army."

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield August 27, 2011 | 10:00 a.m.

"Columbia MU is the proverbial 1000 pound gorilla."

In this situation, I don't think that's the case anymore. Sure, MU is still a major employer. But the group that would be most affected is faculty and academic staff. They're a tiny minority compared to non-academic MU staff (e.g., at the hospitals and clinics), plus everyone who works for the insurance companies, the city and all of the area's other public and private employers. Why should they, their children and taxpayers have to sacrifice to accommodate MU's schedule?

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin August 31, 2011 | 12:17 p.m.

Kids are out of school again today for lack of air conditioning, so the saga continues as it has for decades.

Former CPS assistant superintendent Jack Jensen wrote a detailed letter about the air conditioning controversy just published here:

(Report Comment)
Shaina Cavazos August 31, 2011 | 7:11 p.m.

If anybody would like more information about the bond issue and where funds are going, we've compiled past coverage to help you out. There are links to stories and graphics that break down how much money is going to each project, what role the tax levy adjustment plays and how the district gets money from selling bonds.

— Shaina Cavazos, Columbia Missourian

(Report Comment)

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