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.