Schools seek input on property tax hike

School District 51 plans to test the waters this summer to see whether a mill levy override to benefit local schools is something Mesa County voters would support.

Superintendent Steve Schultz sent an email to district employees Thursday saying he plans to ask community leaders for their thoughts on the topic, then reach out to the community at large to hear residents’ thoughts. His email listed the potential override request as $14.5 million, a number that may be subject to change. An override of that amount would equal $5.39 in added tax per month* for every $100,000 of a property’s worth.

The money would be used to restore 80 teaching positions and add days to the school calendar, which lost five days over the past two years, according to Schultz’s email.

School board members have been discussing the possibility of an override “a lot,” according to board member Diann Rice. But no decisions have been made about whether to place an override question on November’s ballot.

Rice said November may be ideal for an override question because the district already is paying to be on the ballot. That’s because her seat and the seat of fellow board member Cindy Enos-Martinez are up for election.

The decision to place an override measure on the November ballot will have to be made by Aug. 14. Board member Greg Mikolai said a special meeting to decide whether to go forward with the idea may take place Aug. 12. The board has a meeting scheduled for Aug. 2, but Mikolai said the district may still be in the process of collecting information and local opinions about the issue at that time.

The 2007 mill levy freeze will cause the school district’s mill rate, part of the property tax formula, to stay put as property valuations drop in Mesa County. That means less money for the district in 2012–13.

Mikolai said the average Mesa County homeowner is expected to see a $300 drop in his or her property tax bill next year, and he is interested to see if voters are willing to slightly decrease that drop to benefit schools.

“We’re just seeing if it’s something we could or should do,” he said. “If we put it on the ballot, and it gets killed, there’s no point to that.”

Enos-Martinez said she’s not sure what voters will think of the possibility of an override. If it happens, she said the board will keep voters well-informed.

“Our community’s pretty understanding when you’re up front with them and you really have a need for the money and can explain where it’s going,” she said.

That need should be apparent by now, after three consecutive years of budget cuts, school board President Harry Butler said.

“They know our situation,” he said. “I think they would have an idea money would really help in the classroom.”

“This is not something we’re doing because it’s nice to have the money, but because we want children to get the education they deserve,” Mikolai said.

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* A previous version of this story did not include the information that the additional $5.39 on a $100,000 home was per month.


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