Already facing a budget crunch, the Columbia Public School District would lose more money if county assessors get their way in the state legislature.
Legislators have proposed dipping into property tax revenue for more funds that would be used by county assessors to keep property assessments up-to-date. But recouping the funds using property tax revenue means the county would turn less over to entities that get the money — most notably school districts.
County assessors have lobbied for the past three years to increase their share of property taxes collected. This year, assessors have said more funding is necessary because their offices have taken a 20 percent reduction in state funds they can receive for keeping property assessments up-to-date during the last 18 months.
Losing the most in Boone County would be the Columbia Public Schools, which according to taxes billed in 2003, would lose about $339,000 under a House version of the bill and about $169,000 under the Senate version.
About $67.7 million in property taxes billed in 2003 were designated for the district.In first-class counties such as Boone County, one cent out of every tax dollar collected is now paid in fees to the county collector’s office, and a half-cent goes to the county assessor. Under the Senate bill, the payout to assessors would increase by half, and under the House version, it would double.
Schools get a hefty portion of local tax collections — generally somewhere around 70 percent — which is what would make them hardest hit of all entities receiving tax money, said Boone County Assessor Tom Schauwecker.
School board officials and organizations such as the Missouri School Boards’ Association have been the most outspoken opponents of the legislation. They continue to oppose it on the grounds that school budgets have already taken more cuts than they can handle and even small fee increases would hurt.
“We’re not opposed to providing assessors with additional resources, but we don’t think that should come from school district funding,” said Brent Ghan, director of educational policy for the Missouri School Boards’ Association. “In the climate we’re in right now, it’s a matter for many districts of just getting though the next budget year.”
If the percentage increase on the House bill goes into effect, the amount assessors would take out of the Columbia district’s budget would be about the same as the salaries of eight teachers, said Deputy Superintendent Jacque Cowherd. The district employs about 1,200 teachers, he said.
Reducing staff is typically the last thing school officials want to consider when the district loses revenue, Cowherd said. But with the district already projecting an $8.7 million revenue shortfall in its 2004-05 budget and staff costs making up the bulk of the district’s spending, cutting staff might be difficult to avoid if there are any revenue shortages.
“I believe the district has the stance that we would not want to see further erosion of revenue sources,” he said, especially since the state has not been fully funding the foundation formula — the formula used to allocate its share of money for schools.
Sponsors of the bills and supporters of the legislation call school districts’ concerns about increasing the fees “short-sighted.” Giving assessors more money to do their job, they say, would benefit schools in the long run by ensuring that new property gets assessed correctly — and thus that more taxes are collected.
Schauwecker said the assessor’s office in Boone County is in financially good shape compared to other county assessor’s offices. The office was affected by cuts in state funding but not as substantially as other county offices, some of which had to lay off employees, he said. However, Schauwecker said school districts still stand to gain from the state’s providing assessors more funding.
“As the tax base increases, so do our revenues,” Schauwecker said.