Park City School Board approves property tax increase
The Park City School Board on Thursday approved a property tax increase district officials contend is necessary to keep up with rising enrollment and teacher costs.
While they approved the increase, each member of the Board expressed concern over the sustainability of the current budget model, a worry shared by many residents who had spoken at a public Truth in Taxation hearing Tuesday. The vote passed 4-0, with Board member Tania Knauer abstaining.
The tax was advertised by the district as an additional $106.48 annually (from $1,336.45 to $1,442.93) on a $550,000 primary home and $193.60 (from $2,429.90 to $2,623.50) on a $550,000 business or secondary home.
District business administrator Todd Hauber said in Tuesday’s Truth in Taxation hearing that by law, the district must advertise only the tax levies that will cause a revenue increase — in this case, two of the five levies the district imposes. However, decreases in the other three levies controlled by the district will result in yearly taxes on a $550,000 primary home rising only $42.35 as a result of the Board approving Thursday’s increase, rather than the advertised $106.48.
The tax increase, which is expected to generate $3 million in new revenue for the district, comes earlier than the district expected when it increased taxes two years ago. But according to documents posted on the district website, pcschools.us, the district is battling rising enrollment — the district has seen an increase of more than 300 students since the beginning of last school year. The district also is seeing increased teacher compensation costs, as a result of increased staffing and the district underestimating total payroll costs.
Superintendent Ember Conley has said the district would be running a deficit in two years if the tax had not been increased.
Several residents expressed worries in the Truth in Taxation hearing that the district has no plan in place to avoid similar tax increases in the near future, when additional enrollment increases and teacher costs could force the pocketbook open further.
Vern Christensen, a former Park City School Board member, said the district’s current model, which spends, on average, more than $10,000 per student each year — with fewer than $3,000 of that coming from the state — is not viable going forward.
"We need to think about how we provide a good education service for students, but one that is sustainable," he said.
Knauer, who abstained from the vote, said during discussion before Thursday’s vote that she agreed with many residents at the Truth in Taxation hearing.
"My concern is the budget is not sustainable," she said. "I feel uncomfortable voting (in favor of the increase)."
Board President Maurice Hickey also agreed that options to manage the district budget must be considered, including examining inefficiencies of the district’s many programs.
"Yes, if we continue down the same path on all the spending, and increase this and increase that, then therefore we’re going to run into another problem," Hickey said. "That should be something we look at and say, ‘OK, we have a choice. How do we manage that?"
Hickey said several options could be on the table as the district examines the future of its budget, as the landscape of education is changing. He singled out blended learning (in which some of a student’s education is delivered online) and staffing graduate assistants in classrooms with increased pupil size — delivering the benefits of a small class size without the teacher compensation costs — as two potential options, while acknowledging those changes would require careful consideration.
However, one of Hickey’s largest concerns is income tax money leaving Park City to fund the state’s Uniform School Fund, rather than the Park City School District. He encouraged residents to contact state legislators about the issue.
"Boards don’t get heard as much as citizens do at the state level," Hickey said. "We don’t fund education properly in the state of Utah. And if we continue to do that, then we’re always, in Park City, going to have (these problems).
" We’ve been ignored for years, as one senator called us one time, ‘the golden goose.’ And, yeah, we keep on giving."
Hickey said he is optimistic the district can work toward a sustainable budget. But if cutting the fat isn’t enough, the community will have to examine what it wants for its students.
"And if at the end of the day, if it comes down to we’ve identified those inefficiencies, we see where we are and it’s still not enough," Hickey said, "then the community has to weigh in and say, ‘Do we support this or do we not?’ Because if not, at that point we are looking at cutting (budget) or increasing class sizes or whatever the answer is."
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