CEDAR CITY – The Iron County School Board unanimously voted to increase property taxes Tuesday night following a truth-in-taxation hearing where several residents spoke out on the issue.
The board voted to increase the local levy tax from the current certified rate of .000624 to .00080 and the capital local levy of .000999 to .001000 for the coming year. The district is estimating an increase of $532,000 in total revenue from the new taxes.
As an example of how this increase will affect property owners, the property taxes in 2017 on a $189,950 median-priced home will increase from $433.56 to $465.43 with a difference of $31.86. A business owner with property of the same value will pay $846.23 as opposed to the $788.29 they paid last year with a total increase of $57.94.
Under Utah law, the district is limited in how they can spend the money. The board is proposing to use the estimated $299,000 from the voted local levy to cover a salary increase the five-member board previously awarded to teachers last year. In addition, they are considering using the money for future salary increases or to raise the base salary rate teachers are currently earning.
Other possibilities include ongoing curriculum needs in the areas of language arts and math, ongoing digital teaching and learning support, dual immersion support and professional development.
The other $233,000 the district is anticipating from the capital local levy may go toward purchasing security cameras for buses or various schools, including all three Iron County high schools, Canyon View Middle School and Iron Springs Elementary. The revenue may also be used to purchase additional buses, technology to support digital teaching and learning and a preschool.
Approximately 100 people showed up to the hearing Tuesday night to voice both support and opposition to the increase.
Reasons for opposing the tax increase among the members of the public ran the gamut from pointing to excessive spending by the school district to those who disagreed overall with the government’s power to tax.
Several business owners compared the district to the private sector, arguing that school officials needed to find ways to cut waste and spending rather than raise taxes.
“I agree with some of what’s been said that a lot of wasteful spending happens in government institutions and tax increases tend to stay and increase more and increase more,” Mary Fox said. “Very rarely does a tax decrease happen, and so it’s really kind of a permanent thing. And I also agree it will hurt a lot of people that aren’t in the 1 percent. So I just want to say I oppose it for those reasons, and I think other solutions can be found.”
Others expressed their support for teachers and the school district but adamantly opposed the tax increase.
“I don’t think anyone disputes that the money should go to the classrooms and the teachers where it belongs, but that’s not what’s been happening,” Blake Cozzens said. “It’s been going to the administration and wasteful spending.”
Many school district employees and their family members spoke out in favor of the school board raising taxes, arguing that teachers deserve higher wages.
The starting wage for teachers in Iron County is currently around $28,000-$30,000 with the top wages at about $40,000.
“I hear the words like waste and stealing, and I think it’s our obligation in this wonderful country that we live in, it’s our privilege, to use our money to build roads, to build great schools,” Rebecca Steel said. “We’re not asking to fleece everyone or to line everybody’s pockets. We’re asking that teachers be paid fairly, that teachers be compensated so that this area is competitive.”
A husband of one school teacher passionately addressed the audience, letting them know she had left a job that paid $27,000 more than she is currently making in Utah.
All of Utah’s teachers received a salary increase this legislative session when Utah lawmakers approved a 4 percent increase in the value of the weighted pupil unit, Utah’s distribution system for per-pupil funding and which, in part, pays for teachers’ salaries and pay increases. Additionally, legislators granted $240 million in new money to public education.
Board members listened to comments about an hour before the vice president of the school board, Harold Haynie, closed the meeting to the dismay of several residents who were standing in line at the time waiting to comment.
Haynie explained to Cedar City News after the meeting that he chose to limit the time because he felt both sides had been given an equal opportunity to be heard and that comments would only begin to be “repeated.”
“What happens is, this is one of those things that can just drag on and on and on, and we just determined that we’re going to allow for 45 minutes for comments,” Haynie said. “Because it can continue to go both ways, right? So 45 minutes in our (board) opinion is more than enough time for those in favor of and those against to express and then we’re done and we move on.”
Prior to taking their vote school board members shared their feelings about not wanting to raise taxes but said they felt they had no alternative.
“When I see a teacher in Iron County that cannot raise their family on the income that they make, that’s wrong, that’s sick and wrong. I want teachers to be able to support their families,” Haynie said. “When I was growing up, teachers made enough to raise their children, and today it is just a far cry from that opportunity. It just has changed.”
The district’s chief financial officer, Kent Peterson, also detailed for the public specific ways the district had worked to save money over the years and continues to do so. Additionally, Peterson said, teachers received a pay cut in 2009 with the economic downturn and have not received a raise since that time.
Meanwhile, Granite School District Board of Education voted to approve a 12 percent increase in local property taxes last week to help pay for an 11 percent pay raise to teachers and administrators. According to the Deseret News, school board members said they awarded the pay raise in order to better compete for new teachers and to retain educators now on the job.
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