Missing the boat on school taxes

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By Nick Schrager

When I attend public meetings, I’m there as eyes and ears for the members of the public who do not attend. I’m not there to offer comments, or have reactions or show emotion to what takes place. That’s why I hope my jaw didn’t drop, as it felt like it did, when the Washington County School Board members did not second a motion for a proposed tax increase Friday evening.

As you’re probably aware, a tax increase was on the agenda Friday, and the board had the opportunity to increase its tax rate from 54.8 cents to 57 cents per $100 of assessed property value.
That increase would have meant an additional $22 in taxes per year for property owners who have $100,000 in property. That equals out to $22 per year; $1.83 per month, or just 42 cents per week.
While this property range is an example, the Washington County Property Valuation Administrator’s office indicates that many homes in Washington County are valued below this $100,000 range, making the impact of a potential tax increase even less on those property owners.
The economy is tough, and that’s no secret. However, so is the job market, and that can be felt by those kids who are graduating from our schools and looking for work in a field that now includes potential employees from around the globe, not just down the street or across the county line.
Washington County does a fine job of educating our children, and I’m proud that my son attends classes in the district. However, all the good teachers in the world cannot continue to do a great job when the district’s resources are being cut by the state, and as we now hear from school board member Nora Hatton, potential cuts from the federal level, too. Hatton shared this bit of information following the tax hearing Friday, and she said that the board members learned just prior to the tax hearing that more federal cuts, likely 7-9 percent, should be expected in the future.
Knowing that we have more cuts ahead, and that the cost of doing business will increase by more than $225,000 next year already, I just don’t understand how the board could fail to pass this increase, which would have brought in an additional $191,075.80 to our district.
Like many of you, I am in favor of a new high school for Washington County. As I look at the numbers that were presented to the board and see the increases in expenses we already face, and those that will also come along with the new school, it appears to me that taxes are going to have to increase to pay for necessities. As Washington County High School Principal Paul Terrell told the members of the public and the school board Friday, this money is not being sought for a race track or a new coliseum, but basic needs for the children of our county; my children, your children, your grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and others.
I respect each member of the Washington County School Board, and I do not doubt they vote their conscience on all issues. After all, they are representatives of the people. But, as Hatton also noted before making a motion to accept the increase, the board members are also charged with overseeing the fiscal needs of the school district, and I feel that the tax increase was a vital part of meeting those needs. That’s why it should have been passed.
The money our school district lost by not taking the tax increase, in this case more than $191,000, will never be recovered. But it’s not just that money, it’s much more.
In addition to that money not being collected for the coming year, it would also add up over the long haul. With an increase this year alone, that money over 20 years would provide an additional $3.8 million dollars, and that does not include interest or compounding factors, which would provide an even greater amount of money.
There’s no sense going over this any further, at least not this year. We’ve missed the boat on a boatload of money, and it would have cost us all a very little in comparison to the benefit for our kids and our community. Let’s hope our kids and our community don’t pay an even higher price down the road.