The Columbia School Board voted Thursday to reduce this year’s property tax rate. It might not last long.
The rate “is going down,” said Heather McArthur, the district’s chief financial officer, “at least for one year.”
A provision in the state constitution that ties the amount property taxes can rise each year to the Consumer Price Index triggered the board’s vote to drop the tax rate.
Many Boone County homeowners had their property values reassessed this year, with values increasing by as much as 8%. The CPI, meanwhile, rose less than 2%, forcing the board’s hand.
As a result of the vote, McArthur said, the average homeowner’s tax hike will be about $20 less than it would have been otherwise. According to her presentation to the board, for a home worth $200,000, that means a $96 jump on this year’s property tax bills — from $2,279 to $2,375.
Even as board members approved the rate decrease, they began talking about ways to raise revenue. McArthur estimated next year’s plan for increased expenditures, including the opening of a new middle school, will cost the district $8 million and force it into deficit spending.
One option discussed briefly among the board members was a waiver from Proposition C, a 1-cent sales tax dedicated to education in Missouri. When it was passed in 1982, half the money was intended to reduce property taxes. Over the years, many districts have succeeded in persuading voters to take the Prop C money without having to roll back tax rates. However, the Columbia Public School District is not one of them.
Eliminating the Prop C rollback would give the district roughly $8 million this year, according to McArthur’s presentation to the board.
McArthur said 95% of schools in Missouri have received at least a partial waiver from Prop C. Columbia is the only school district in Boone County that still provides the full rollback.
Superintendent Peter Stiepleman described the discussion as the beginning of a long process.
“The intention of bringing it up today is to start the conversation and ask for permission to continue the conversation at the Finance Committee,” he said.
Lara Wakefield, a parent and member of multiple local advocacy groups, expressed concern. Wakefield said she voted for a tax increase for the schools in 2015 but she now regrets her decision.
“Buildings are not accessible,” she said. “Programs that they spent money on are not yielding results.”
She said she’s also disappointed by the lack of a current contract with the teachers union.
“It’s very hard,” she said, “to trust them right now as a taxpayer.”